An indigenous tribe in the southern Philippines marked the third anniversary of the killing of their leaders this week by renewing their call for justice. In a statement, tribal rights group Mapasu said the death of the leaders was a "celebration of the victories in the defense of their ancestral lands." "Our leaders and our people lost their lives to protect our ancestral territories," said Sarry Campos, the group's spokesman. "They died for the next generation to survive," he added. On Sept. 1, 2015, members of a paramilitary group shot and killed Manobo tribal leaders Dionel Campos and Aurelio Sinzo, and tribal school director Emerito Samarca
in Lianga town. The killings resulted in the evacuation and displacement of about 4,000 tribal people who fled their homes
and sought shelter in nearby towns for a year. The tribal people expressed suspicion that their leaders were killed because of their strong opposition to mining operations in the region. Mapasu's Sarry Campos accused soldiers of "protecting and aiding" the perpetrators of the 2015 killings. "Justice is illusive because our government promotes a culture of impunity," he said. Col. Ezra Balagtey, spokesman of the army's Eastern Mindanao Command, denied the allegations, saying the military was helping track down the killers. He said they will hold dialogues with tribal communities "to identify measures" on how the military can help keep tribal territories safe from armed men. Tribal leader Datu Jalandoni Campos, however, said the reason behind the conflict and killings are "the economic interests" of the government and big corporations in the area. Mapasu chairwoman, Imelda Belandres, said people are "expecting intensified attacks" as the government promotes mining in tribal lands to help boost revenue. Church groups joined tribal people on Sept. 3 in a candle-lit ceremony at the site of the 2015 killings and voiced their call for the government to address the root causes of armed conflict in Mindanao. Father Raymond Montero Ambray of Tanday Diocese said tribal communities have become "victims of the absence of accountability from the government." He appealed to other church people "to stand in solidarity with indigenous people in their search for peace and justice." The Philippine tribal group Katribu
has already recorded 43 murders of tribal people since 2016 when President Rodrigo Duterte came to power.
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Most of the killings have occurred since the president declared martial law across the region in 2017 following the terrorist attack in the city of Marawi. During the administration of former president, Benigno Aquino, from 2010 to 2016, there were 104 tribal killings with 88 incidents happening in Mindanao.