ucanews.com reporter, Manila
Updated: September 06, 2016 09:47 AM GMT
At least 2,000 tribal people have started to return to their villages on Sept. 3, a year after they fled their homes following the killing of tribal leaders. (Photo by Ciriaco Santiago)
Some 2,000 tribal people in the southern Philippines have returned to their homes a year after they fled their village following a massacre of their leaders.
The move comes after paramilitary groups accused of committing atrocities withdrew from the area and the military pledged to follow suit this week.
Human rights group Karapatan hailed the return of the Manobo tribe as "a significant outcome" of the people's campaign for justice and to reclaim their ancestral land from the occupation of soldiers.
"The strength that comes from the collective struggle of the people inspired national and international support, said Karapatan secretary-general, Cristina Palabay.
She said, however, that the perpetrators of the killings and human rights violations remain free.
"The perpetrators should be arrested and made accountable," said Palabay, adding that the tribe should be compensated for the loss and destruction of properties.
Some 6,000 people fled the village of Diatagon and nearby hinterland tribal communities of Lianga town, Surigao del Sur province, following the killing of tribal leaders Dionel Campos and Aurelio Sinzo, as well as Emerico Samarca, a tribal schoolteacher, on Sept. 1, 2015.
Human rights groups accused members of an anti-communist paramilitary group of killing the three men.
Karapatan's Palabay said the army has been using paramilitary groups to harass indigenous people who oppose mining activities in tribal areas.
Tribal people are usually accused of having communist sympathies in such incidences.
"Many have died because they stood up for our ancestral land. My father, my grandfather, and our schoolteacher gave their lives for us," said Michelle Campos, daughter of Dionel Campos.
"Today we are reclaiming our homes," she said.
Search for justice
"The pullout of troops will give the tribal people security on their way home," said Bishop Modesto Villasanta of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.
The Protestant bishop said the presence of soldiers brings back "traumatic memories, especially to children who witnessed the brutal killings."
"The presence of armed men will not help the tribe rebuild their community and will only cause fear," said Bishop Villasanta.
Father Fortunato Estillore of Tandag Diocese's tribal apostolate called on Catholics to "never get tired of extending support" to tribal people in their "search for justice."
He also called on authorities to respect the indigenous people’s way of life because they are "the defenders of the environment."
Palabay, however, said the search for justice does not end with the return of people to their villages and the pullout of soldiers.
"The perpetrators of the murders are still at large and paramilitary groups in Mindanao still exist," she said.
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