By Mark Anthony Duran, Davao Today Intern
DAVAO CITY – More than 100 tribal women gathered on Thursday here to denounce the militarization and mining in their community as they formed their first regional grouping.
Norma Capuyan of BAI Mindanao described as “peace and devil-opment” the outreach program of the Army in Natulingan, Bukidnon and other tribal communities saying that while the Army conducts development “they also occupy schools and expose children to danger”.
“We strongly condemn the occupation of the military troops in our schools and its negative implications not only for us but for our children as well,” she said.
The worse situation would be during military operations that commonly include their hinterland villages.
Capuyan said they and their kin often become “victims of torture, harassment, coercion, and other abuses while the military is hunting down for lawless elements in remote villages”.
In January last year, 207 families and 969 individuals were forced to evacuate to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between the government troops and the New People’s Army (NPA) in Agusan del Sur, said Capuyan.
Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, a famous Matigsalog woman leader and the only woman datu in Mindanao who fought against the incursion of big mining companies in 1994, said that her people were recruited into the military and the militia group, Cafgu.
Bigkay said “refusal would mean unspeakable consequences, including being accused as member or sympathizer of the NPAs”.
“The military use and train men coming from Alamara and Bagani and arm them to become frontliners in war,” Bigkay said.
“It is a form of destroying our autonomy since we are not allowed to speak up for our own decisions and interests and since they dictate what is right and wrong,” she added.
The International Humanitarian Law forbids using civilians as human shield or to be included in any form of war and, for soldiers to occupy communities and violate their Constitutional rights.
Tina Gomez, a media officer of Kasalo-Caraga recounted how soldiers would kill tribal members “who are defending their rights to their ancestral domains”.
She cited the case of a leader from the Mapaso organization from Lianga town and a person named Nicasio Precioso, was killed last December 12. The community linked the killings to their opposition to the mining activities and military presence in their community.
Gomez said that 16 communities and 122 families from Lianga already left their homes because of the killing incidents.
Bai Bigkay expressed her disappointment to the inaction of their appeal to government.
“Before, even with just two datus, a great problem besetting our community can be easily resolved, but why is it that even though we have many leaders in our country today, our simple request cannot be granted?” she said.
“Is it because we are poor? I have been going back and forth in Davao City to express our complaints but it seems that our cry for help fell on deaf ears,” she added.
On February 12 of this year the women formed the first “Sabokahan To Mo Lumad Kamalitanan Confederation of Lumad Women”.
During the assembly, some women performed dance rituals “to give thanks and express heartfelt gratitude to Bathala (God) for giving them fertile lands to plough”.
However, the tribes continue to fear that their lands will be stolen. “I would rather fight for my land and my rights than being stolen by these capitalists,” Bai Bigkay said.
“We will be forced to use our own forces if our plight would still be ignored,” she said. (davaotoday.com)