Dr. Chaloka Beyani, UN Special Rapporteur (at the middle) stands beside Datu Tungig Mansimoy-at, a Manobo evacuee and tribal chieftain from Talaingod, Davao del Norte during the visit of human rights advocates in Manila last July 21. (photo from Karapatan)
Dr. Chaloka Beyani, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of the internally-displaced persons, recently made an official visit to the Philippines last July 21 to 31, including a visit to UCCP Haran in Davao City to talk with the Manobo evacuees. Prior to her visit to Davao, she met Manobo leader Datu Tungig Mansimoy-at from Salugpongan in Manila last July 21 where the tribal leader initially talked about their plight.
The rapporteur released an official statement which included the following excerpt on the Manobo communities, which ends with an urgent call to take concrete actions to protect the indigenous communities.
“It was striking to me that indigenous peoples have been particularly vulnerable to conflict-induced displacement in many regions, particularly in Mindanao. For example, I am concerned by the plight of some 700 indigenous peoples currently living in basic Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) church run facilities in the city of Davao having been displaced from their ancestral homes for several months due to long-standing conflict between the government and the New People’s Army (NPA) in their region. I travelled to Davao to consult the national and local authorities and the indigenous peoples themselves on this situation. I heard from the AFP its assertion that it is seeking to protect the communities and provide services to them in conflict regions; however the displaced IPs made it clear that it is their presence and that of the paramilitary groups in their communities that continues to create anxiety amongst the indigenous communities. The community wishes to return to its lands but stressed to me that they will only feel safe to do so if the long-term militarization of their region comes to an end and they can return with guarantees of safety, dignity and protection. They described to me their concerns including their alleged forced recruitment into paramilitary groups, known as Alamara, under the auspices of the AFP and harassment in the context of the on-going conflict between the AFP and the NPA. Schools have reportedly been closed and/or occupied by the AFP or Alamara, hampering the access to education of indigenous children. While tribal leaders informed me that they are not being detained against their will at the UCCP centre in Davao, as is evident by reports of their periodic return to their communities, their current situation is neither acceptable nor sustainable. It is essential to find a rapid and peaceful solution to their situation in full consultation with their legitimate leaders, with their voluntary and secure return to their ancestral lands being a high priority. I urge the Government, in consultation with indigenous peoples themselves, to give greater attention to addressing the causes of displacement whether it be due to the militarization of their areas or due to development projects.
This situation clearly demonstrates the massive and potentially irreversible impact of the on-going conflicts on displacement of such vulnerable communities who are often caught up in the conflict and suspected of involvement with armed groups. Displacement, whether due to conflict or development, not only destroys the homes and livelihoods of indigenous peoples, but has an incalculable impact on their cultures and ways of life that are part of the rich and diverse heritage of the Philippines that must be protected or otherwise lost, perhaps forever. Indigenous peoples are poorly equipped to survive away from their ancestral lands and are therefore deeply affected by displacement. The needs of these vulnerable people must be assessed, with their full participation, so as to provide essential assistance for them, including durable solutions which are culturally sensitive and appropriate, when displacement has taken place. The displacement of such communities whose very lives and cultures are intimately entwined with their ancestral lands and environments must only be a matter of last resort. It is clear to me that existing legislation and institutions, including the exemplary Indigenous Peoples Rights Act cannot provide adequate protection from displacement unless fully implemented in practice. Specific provisions on the rights of indigenous peoples should be included in the IDP Law currently under consideration.”
The full text of Beyani’s statement can be found in the United Nation Human Rights website here.