In the wake of human rights abuses relentlessly committed against Indigenous Peoples (IPs), especially those in Mindanao, Senator Leila M. de Lima has reiterated her appeal for the government to exert more effort to protect the rights of the natives in the province.
Instead of painting the IPs in Mindanao, collectively known as Lumad, as enemies of the state, De Lima said the government should focus on protecting them from discrimination and attacks allegedly perpetrated by the military.
“We’ve seen a disturbing rise in attacks against Lumad communities in the past years, which had prompted them to flee their houses for fear for their safety. We should empower them by giving them voice in the society to address the needs of their communities,” she said.
“Also, the government should not forget to observe the basic human rights to life and peace of the civilian populations, be it in urban or the mountains, especially that of children, women and the elderly,” she added.
The former chairperson of Commission on Human Rights’ (CHR) statement came as the international community commemorated National Indigenous Peoples’ Day last Aug. 9.
Note that Lumad groups have since expressed hopes that President Duterte, a self-proclaimed socialist, will subject them to just and fair treatment. However, their relationship with him turned sour as the former Davao mayor associate Lumads with communists.
The conditions of Lumad groups worsen when Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law to address attacks by ISIS-inspired Maute group on May 23.
Last month, Duterte even threatened to bomb schools built for the Lumad on suspicion that these institutions were teaching students to rebel against the government.
De Lima, a known human rights defender, said the government should stop attacks against indigenous communities and instead give them power to stand up for their rights without being threatened and harassed.
“They are the victims here, and should never be subjected to harassment due to their political beliefs,” she said.
De Lima previously filed Senate Resolution No. 195 urging the appropriate committee in the Senate to conduct an inquiry on the root causes of internal displacement of indigenous cultural communities or IPs to uphold rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
The neophyte Senator also urged the Duterte administration to send a formal invitation to United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs Cecilia Jimenez-Damary to look into the growing number of citizens displaced by the crisis in Marawi by filing Senate Resolution No. 455 this month.
Since the declaration of martial law on May 23, about 351,168 people have been displaced in Marawi, with 17,389 of them staying in evacuation areas, based on figures released by the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Zamboanga last June.
Considered as a “prisoner of conscience”, De Lima is currently detained at the Custodial Center of the Philippine National Police in Camp Crame, Quezon City for trumped-up drug charges fabricated by the Duterte Administration, and Duterte’s personal vendetta against her.