A student activist displays a placard calling for an end to attacks on tribal schools during the observance of International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
A group of missionary sisters called on government and church leaders in the Philippines to look into the situation of tribal people who have been complaining of abuse and discrimination.
Sister Famita Somogod of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines said the church has an "obligation to combat discrimination" and should "always side with those in the margins."
The nun issued the statement following calls by various tribal groups for "self-governance" during a three-day meeting of 12 indigenous people groups in the southern region of Mindanao last week.
Sister Somogod also urged the government to "investigate and act" on human rights violations perpetrated against tribal communities.
"It is Christian faithfulness to defend our persecuted indigenous peoples who have been marginalized," said Sister Somogod a member of the Missionary Sisters of Mary congregation.
"The government should end counter-insurgency operations that continue to wreak havoc on indigenous communities," she said.
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines has documented 28 cases of alleged extra-judicial killings of at least 37 tribal leaders and community members since 2014.
The report noted that out of those 37 killed, seven were traditional leaders.
The report also documented 21 cases of forced evacuation and displacement "mainly due to military operations," affecting 2,360 families or 13,187 individuals.
Ailene Villarosa, advocacy officer of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, said military operations in tribal communities continue despite ongoing peace negotiations between the government and communist rebels.
"We continue to receive reports of human rights violations against indigenous peoples as a result of troops deployment in communities," she said.
"The church must not close its eyes on the realities that beset our tribal brethren," she said.