Tribal groups from Mindanao join a protest in Manila on Feb. 23 to mark the anniversary of the 1986 uprising that ousted Ferdinand Marcos. Church and human rights groups helping tribal groups in Mindanao have been accused of having links with communist rebels. (Photo by Jire Carreon)
The Philippine government has accused several church groups with having links to the communist underground movement in a report submitted to the United Nations this month.
The report, which was submitted to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva on Feb. 21, alleged that groups allied with the rebels are trafficking tribal children.
It accused the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, of fanning conflict among tribes in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.
In his report, Vicente Agdamag, deputy director-general of the National Security Council, said the rebels are also recruiting tribal children to become "child warriors."
"To include the Rural Missionaries ... is the height of malice," Benedictine nun Mary John Mananzan told ucanews.com.
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines is an inter-congregational and inter-diocesan organization of women and men religious, who live and work in rural poor communities.
The Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc., an ecumenical church group, has been setting up tribal schools in rural areas in Mindanao.
Sister Mananzan, whose congregation helped set up some of the schools, said the government has been "recycling lies."
"It is another example of how this administration will do anything to demolish those who dare to oppose it," she said, warning that it might pave the way for a wider crackdown against activists.
The schools accused of being training centers for guerrillas have been granted permits by the Education Department, Sister Mananzan said.
Also listed in the report are human rights group, Karapatan, independent think-tank the Ibon Foundation, and several other activist groups.
Redemptorist priest Oliver Castor, spokesman of the Rural Missionaries, said President Rodrigo Duterte seems to be "laying the groundwork for a new phase in his bloody wars."
He told ucanews.com that attacks on communities resisting destructive mining and plantation projects have surged in recent months.
Human rights group Karapatan noted that Mindanao accounts for 86 of 134 activists killed in the past three years since Duterte came to power.