A spate of aerial bombings, food blockades, illegal arrests and killings of indigenous Lumad and farmers are zeroed in on critics and opponents of large-scale mines and plantations across the northern regions of Mindanao, said environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE).

“The military is trying to flush out the opposition to mining and plantation interests in the Northern Mindanao and Caraga regions. These environmental defenders have been protecting 243,163 hectares of forest and agricultural lands within their ancestral domains and farmlands against the encroachment of these extractive and destructive projects,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

On December 31, 2018, aerial bombs were let loose on the mountainous areas near Lumad villages in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. A subsequent series of attacks that included harassment and intimidation, gunshot assaults, and food blockades prompted the forced evacuation of 64 families and 333 individuals, including Lumad students and teachers from alternative Lumad schools.

Two Lumad farmers in the area, Randel Gallego and Emel Tejero, were accosted on January 24, 2019, by elements of the 401st Infantry Brigade. They were later announced dead by the military on January 30, 2019, in a radio broadcast, alleging they were New People’s Army members. Family and community members vehemently disputed this claim.

“The Lumad communities of Lianga are standing firmly against coal and gold mining exploration and development projects attempting to grab lands and resources from their ancestral lands ensconced within the Andap River Valley Complex. For this, they are constantly being attacked by the military,” explained Dulce.

Meanwhile, in January 28, 2019, Datu Jomorito Goaynon, chairperson of the Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization, was illegally arrested along with Ireneo Udarbe, chair of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas – Northern Mindanao Region, by the police personnel. The police alleged they are “top New People’s Army leaders,” a repeated accusation they have used to justify the earlier illegal arrest of the two alongside 11 others last July 2018.

“Goaynon and Udarbe are stalwarts of the indigenous and peasant struggles against agri-industrial plantations in Northern Mindanao. They have also effectively exposed military-affiliated indigenous paramilitary groups such as the New Indigenous People’s Army Reform who have been attacking Lumad lands to pave the way for mining deals,” said Dulce.

Kalikasan PNE noted that attacks against Mindanao’s environmental defenders continue to worsen especially after Martial Law was declared over the restive island. The group recorded at least 28 cases of environment-related killings in Mindanao since the martial rule was declared last May 23, 2017. A growing trend, they observed, was the vilification of the killed defenders as members or supporters of the NPA.

“The Duterte government is trying to depict our fellow environmental defenders as rebels or terrorists to justify the militarization of their bastions of natural wealth. We demand that Goaynon and Udarbe be freed and that military troops wreaking havoc in Lianga be withdrawn as soon as possible. Justice for the murdered defenders must be delivered and the bloody reign of Duterte’s martial law over Mindanao must be lifted immediately,” ended Dulce.#

Press Release
4 February 2019

Infographic by Kalikasan PNE/Photos from Kalikasan PNE/KASALO Caraga/Karapatan Caraga