Mindanao's indigenous people nominated for global rights award

Lumad honored as militias force communities from ancestral lands
Mindanao's indigenous people nominated for global rights award

Children perform a ritual during the funeral of a slain tribal leader in Surigao del Sur province in September. (Photo by Vincent Go)

The indigenous people of the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, collectively known as the lumad, have been nominated for an annual human rights award in Belgium.

The nomination came after some 3,000 indigenous people fled their homes for fear of attacks by armed militias to live in temporary shelters in the provinces of Surigao del Sur and Davao del Norte.

The award, which will be given by the group Stop the Killings, an alliance of trade unions, nongovernmental organizations and solidarity movements in Belgium, aims to "draw attention to the rising trend of environmental defenders who have faced attacks (and) have become victims of extrajudicial killings."

The Belgian nongovernment groups Solidagro, Third World Health Aid, and 11.11.11 nominated the tribal people of Mindanao who "have long been at the mercy of military brutalities."

The nominating groups said the indigenous people in Mindanao are victims of abuses because of their resistance to the entry of mining companies to their communities.

The groups said in their statement that attacks on indigenous communities in Mindanao started when the government opened up the region's lands to mining investments.

They noted that 80 percent of all 131 mining permits issued in Mindanao cover tribal lands.

Also nominated for the award, which will be announced on Dec. 18 in Brussels, are Colombia's workers in Palmeras, Peru's Maxima Acuna, and the Association of Mayan lawyers in Guatemala.

Jhong Monzon, spokesman of Pasaka, an indigenous peoples' organization in Mindanao, said the nomination "underscores the situation of terror" experienced by Mindanao's tribal people.

In a statement, Stop the Killings said the nomination is a "just recognition of their right to fight for their ancestral lands and self-determination, and that their struggle has been borne out of their social and political awareness."

"For standing in the way of 'development,' the lumads have been accused as anti-development and enemies of the state, hence, becoming targets of military operations," said the statement of the award organizers.

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 harassments, 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. 

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