Protecting the Lumads of the Philippines
Lumad is a term that refers to indigenous people living on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. There are around 17 ethno-linguistic lumad groups. They have their own unique cultures and have lived for generations in rural ancestral lands. Lumads are among the most vulnerable people in the Philippines. In recent years, these indigenous peoples have been threatened by military and paramilitary groups conducting anti-insurgency campaigns against communist rebel groups operating in lumad lands. Suspected of aiding communists, lumads have been harassed, threatened and even killed. As recent as September of this year, two local community leaders and the school director of a lumad village were killed by a paramilitary group. The case of their killing had been raised to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights.
There have also been increasing incidents of lumad schools being attacked, closed, or taken over by the military for counter-insurgency purposes, seriously affecting the safety and continuing education of indigenous children. Thousands of lumads have fled their homes and have sought shelter in evacuation areas. On-going military operations have prevented lumads from accessing their farms and sacred burial sites, disrupting their livelihood and traditional way of life.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines had condemned the killing of lumads. The bishops questioned the creation of paramilitary groups that are not held accountable for their actions under the usual chain of command of military and police forces. Although these groups were armed and trained by the military for counter-insurgency, they are believed to be under the influence of mining companies interested in exploiting lumad ancestral lands. The undeveloped lands that the lumads occupy are rich with minerals like gold, nickel, and copper. Lumad communities have vigorously protested against the entry of large mining companies into their areas. The Diocese of Tandag in Surigao del Sur, where hundreds of lumads have sought refuge, had issued a pastoral statement that linked the harassment of lumads to mining companies.
As the military and government agencies conduct their own investigations of the recent lumad killings, hundreds of lumad families continue to be displaced from their communities. Separated from their ancestral lands, the lumads are unable to stop the encroachment of mining companies. Fortunately, church groups and human rights organizations have taken up the cause of the lumads. Their efforts to inform and educate the public about the plight of the lumads put pressure on the government to rein in the paramilitary groups and prosecute those guilty of violence against the lumads. Public scrutiny of mining companies and paramilitary groups can bring to light the truth behind the harassment of lumad communities. Through solidarity with the indigenous peoples of Mindanao, concerned citizens and groups provide the crucial support that the lumads need in their fight for justice and the protection of their rights and way of life.