Mindanao tribal people start 1,000-km protest walkDemonstrators intend to camp outside economic summit
Indigenous women call for justice for killings in Mindanao's tribal communities, during a protest rally in Manila on Oct. 23. (Photo by Robert Gines)
Hundreds of indigenous people from the southern Philippines have launched a 1,000-kilometer walk to the national capital, Manila, to dramatize their call against attacks on tribal communities in troubled Mindanao.
The protest march, dubbed "Manilakbayan" or "journey to Manila," is expected to reach the capital on Oct. 26 and set up a "people's camp" during the duration of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila in November.
Jomorito Goaynon, a Higaonon tribal chieftain and spokesman for the protesters, said the tribal people of Mindanao are "determined to show to the international community what is happening in our communities."
Vencer Crisostomo, of the youth group Anakbayan, said many students in the capital will leave their classes on Oct. 26 to meet the demonstrators and hold a weeklong sympathy protest.
"We are calling on the students and the Filipino people to open our doors and our hearts to our [indigenous peoples] who travelled to Manila and help them send their call for justice and peace," said Crisostomo in a statement.
On Oct. 23, faith and civil society groups held a rally outside the offices of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples, or NCIP, in Manila to protest the agency's alleged inaction on the killings of tribal leaders in Mindanao.
"Today, we have a list of indigenous peoples killed because they were defending their rights and promoting the interests of their communities," said Judy Pasimio, national coordinator of Lilak-Purple Action for Indigenous Women's Rights.
"Sadly, the list is getting longer. And so we ask, where is the NCIP in all of this? Its silence is deafening," said Pasimio.
Ed Garingan, campaigner of the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc., said the killings of tribal leaders and attacks on indigenous communities were directly linked to mining.
"We have yet to hear strong protests from the side of the NCIP whenever the military tries to encroach on tribal areas," said Garingan.
Crisostomo said the killing of tribal leaders is part of the government's "dirty war" targeting activists, environmentalists and leaders of minority groups, especially in Mindanao, to further the interests of big foreign businesses.
Crisostomo also condemned the reported harassment done by military intelligence personnel at the University of the Philippines campus, where the indigenous people are scheduled to set up camp on Oct. 26.
Six soldiers were caught inside the campus on Oct. 21 spying on youth leaders.
Katribu, a national alliance of Philippine indigenous people, said at least 70 tribal leaders, most of them lumad from Mindanao, have been killed since June 2010.
The group also recorded 99 cases of harassment, 22 cases of arrests of tribal leaders, nine incidents of bombing of communities and farmlands, and 54 cases of forced evacuations in Mindanao tribal communities.
The issue has come under a renewed spotlight this year after the September killings of two indigenous community leaders and the head of a school. Activists have blamed a paramilitary group for the deaths.
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