DAVAO CITY – The Armed Forces’ Eastern Mindanao Command apologizes on Thursday for ‘misrepresentation’ of the statement  of the United Nations Special rapporteur that made it appear that the latter had described the tribal evacuees in a church compound here as victims of human trafficking.

The Eastmincom issued a news statement on August 7 entitled “Lumad in Haran are Manipulated: Not Evacuees but Victims of Trafficking”, that quoted Chaloka Beyani, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, as saying that the evacuees inside the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran compound as “not evacuees but victims of trafficking.”

The Army said it based the statement during Beyani’s exit briefing at the Operations Center of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Camp Aguinaldo.

In a public statement on Thursday, the Eastmincom said its description of the Haran lumads as trafficked persons “was the assessment of the (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Eastern Mindanao Command and not of the UN Special Rapporteur Chaloka Beyani.”

Colonel Eduardo Gubat, spokesperson of the Eastmincom said “(T)he effect of the statement was not intentional.”

“I, the spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command, Colonel Eduardo B Gubat INF (GSC) PA, humbly apologizes to UN Rapporteur Cheloka Beyani for such oversight and for the inconvenience it has brought to the UN Rapporteur,” he said.

“By reason of such statement, Lt. Gen. Aurelio B. Baladad, AFP, Commander of Eastern Mindanao Command, AFP has approved of my resignation as spokesperson,” he said.

“However, the Eastern Mindanao Command maintains that Dr. Beyani in his exit briefing described that the Indigenous People in Haran are manipulated,” the Army’s statement said.

It added that the Army “takes the said observation constructively as guide in pursuing its mandate of protecting  the Indigenous Peoples from the manipulation of unscrupulous individuals and organizations and help alleviate their sufferings and achieve the self determination they are working for.”

In a statement issued through  UN Information Center in Manila on Thursday morning, Beyani said that he was misquoted by the Army.

“Let me be absolutely clear, the indigenous persons in Davao are not victims of human trafficking. I was explicit in my discussions with the senior AFP representatives on multiple occasions, and indeed at my press conference that the indigenous persons concerned should under no circumstances be considered to fall into the category of trafficked persons,” Beyani said.

“My reference to their being ‘manipulated’ related to the attempt to forcibly move them out of the UCCP facility without proper and adequate consultation with them,” Beyani said in his statement.

“I therefore consider that the AFP statement by the (Eastmincom) in its news release of 7 August that the lumads (Indigenous People) in Davao City are victims of human trafficking is incorrect, unacceptable, and represents a gross distortion of my views on this issue,” he said.

“When we asked them about the circumstances in which why they left their areas they say they were at risked at force recruitment into Alamara and the movements to that area was in protest in relation to the  presence of Alamara, so they wanted to make a point that that was what happened. But I have been there for some time, I think they got manipulated.” Beyani said.

Beyani held a 10-day visit to the Philippines on July 21 to 31 where he was able to visit the Lumads who are staying in Haran.

“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,” Beyani said in his statement issued on July 31.

“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,” he said.

Beyani also urged 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.” (davaotoday.com)

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