For Immediate Release
May 24, 2016
Nina Macapinlac, BAYAN USA Northeast Regional Coordinator
U.S. Out of the Philippines Now! Indigenous Lumad Leaders and Filipino Community Protest Militarization and Human Rights Violations in Mindanao
Kerlan Fanagel, spokesperson of Lakbay Lumad USA, giving a speech on the struggles of the Lumad and importance of supporting people’s resistance in Mindanao
NEW YORK — Today, the Filipino American community joined with indigenous Lumad leaders and allies in a rally outside the Armed Forces Recruiting Station in Times Square to protest the continued U.S. militarization in the Philippines, especially in the southernmost island of Mindanao. As part of a national day of action to commemorate the 17th anniversary of the Philippines-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement, the rally was also held on the last day of a historic national speaking tour called Lakbay Lumad USA, or “Lumad Journey USA.” Protesters highlighted and condemned the role that the United States has played in intensifying militarization, state repression, and human rights violations against the indigenous communities of Mindanao.
Made up of 18 ethnolinguistic tribes, “Lumad” is the umbrella term for indigenous peoples in Mindanao who have suffered the brunt of military occupation, intimidation, and forced displacement in the Philippines. To shed light on the struggles of the Lumad people, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) launched a campaign to “Stop Lumad Killings. Save Our Schools. Protect Indigenous Life.” As the highlight of this campaign, Lakbay Lumad USA is made up of indigenous Lumad leaders from all across Mindanao who have traveled throughout the United States since April to demand accountability from the administration of Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino and challenge the president-elect and Mindanao-native Rodrigo Duterte to end the impunity of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and its paramilitary troops. Having traveled through the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and the West Coast, the Lumad delegates ended their tour with today’s protest rally to make clear that the harsh conditions back home are not isolated incidents, but are actually facilitated by U.S. military and economic policies funded by U.S. taxpayers.
The Land of Promise – and Profit
Mindanao, the island on which the Lumad live, has one of the most resource-rich land in the Philippines, if not the world. With an estimated $1 trillion worth of untapped mineral resources, Mindanao has been the target of many multinational mining, logging, and plantation corporations. Covered with 500,000 hectares of mining concessions, Mindanao has seen a boom in large-scale mining since the Philippine government passed the Mining Act of 1995, effectively liberalizing the country’s mining sector. To defend their land and livelihood, Lumad and peasant communities in Mindanao have organized themselves and escalated resistance against this incursion. To protect the interests of foreign capital and systematically quell resistance, the Philippine government and the AFP launched a counterinsurgency program called Oplan Bayanihan and deployed over 60% of the country’s armed forces to Mindanao. “This [deployment] means [AFP] are in the community. They stay with families with one room,” said Kerlan Fanagel, spokesperson of Lakbay Lumad USA. “And everyday they have interrogations of communities. They kill our leaders … and they always have a license to kill us.”
As a consequence of this these trumped-up charges, intimidation, and extrajudicial killings by the AFP and their paramilitary forces, entire mountain communities have been forced to evacuate their homes all across Mindanao. On September 1st, 2016, over three thousand Lumad from northeastern Mindanao evacuated their communities after paramilitary forces killed three community leaders and educators. In another incident, the Philippine National Police (PNP) violently dispersed protesting peasant and Lumad farmers in Kidapawan, Mindanao, who were demanding relief aid after months of famine–resulting in the deaths of several farmers and arrest and disappearance of dozens more. Up to this day, Philippine military and paramilitary forces are occupying and destroying schools and communities of the Lumad who are defending their right to education and protecting their indigenous culture and livelihood from devastation by corporate mining and logging.
The Role of the United States
The United States has played a big role in undermining the self-determination and economic power of the Philippines, imposing ever-worsening hardship and poverty on society’s most marginalized sectors–particularly peasants and indigenous peoples. To ensure its hegemony and influence in developing countries like the Philippines, the U.S. works closely with national security forces like the AFP to safeguard trade routes and and access to markets.
In the past year, the United States increased its military aid to the Philippines from $50 million to $79 million, under the guise of “assisting” the Philippines in the midst of rising tensions with China. However, BAYAN USA-Northeast recognizes foreign military aid as a tool of imperialism and condemns U.S. warmongering against China as a distraction from its own imperialist advances in the Asia Pacific region. By funding the AFP, the U.S. is strengthening counterinsurgency initiatives like Oplan Bayanihan and enabling the continuation of human rights violations against Lumad community leaders and activists.
Additionally, unequal military agreements like the VFA and its successor the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) have served as the basis for increased U.S. intervention in the Philippines. These agreements allowed for the indefinite permanent presence of at least 660 U.S. Special Operations Forces in Mindanao; dozens of annual war games with thousands of foreign troops on Philippine soil and in Philippine waters; unlimited free docking and travel through Philippine land, ports, and airspace; and even the return of the U.S. bases to the country this year. The increased presence of U.S. military forces and their assistance in counterinsurgency efforts create even more favorable conditions for the ongoing oppression of the Lumad people and all Filipinos resisting imperialist advances in Mindanao.
Peace with Justice
BAYAN USA Northeast calls on the international community to stand alongside the Lumad people in their fight for food, land, and justice.
More than half of U.S. taxpayers’ money goes towards military spending, effectively financing the human rights crisis in Mindanao. By calling for an end to U.S. military aid to the Philippines, U.S. residents can play a big role in strengthening the campaign to stop Lumad killings and protect indigenous life. The international community must also call for an end to unequal military agreements like the VFA and EDCA, which undermine the sovereignty of the Philippines and facilitate human rights violations against leaders and activists who are defending their communities.
BAYAN USA Northeast recognizes that the oppression and resistance of the Lumad people are reflective of the conditions of Philippine society as a whole. “This is not just the struggle of indigenous people but of the whole Philippines,” said Fanagel. “And not just the whole Philippines but of all human beings who have visions of peace, justice, and solidarity.” By struggling for genuine freedom from foreign domination and asserting their right to self-determination, the Lumad are modeling the type of resistance necessary to accomplish a just and lasting peace in the Philippines and in countries around the world. Only by fighting for a government that attends to the basic needs of the people will genuine peace with justice be possible.
U.S. out of the Philippines NOW!
End Militarization! Junk VFA! Junk EDCA!
Stop Lumad Killings! Save Our Schools!
Fight for Food, Land & Justice in Mindanao!
Berna Ellorin, Chairperson of BAYAN USA, gives a closing speech on the importance of being in unity with the struggles of the Lumad
Lakbay Lumad delegation at Times Square Armed Forces Recruiting Station to cap off a six-week tour across the United States