In celebration of the United Nation’s International Day of Peace on September 21, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) and the College of the Holy Spirit - Manila, organized a forum entitled: “Partnerships for Peace: Dignity for All”, a UN’s theme for the year 2015. This was held last September 30, 2015 at the latter institution’s premises.
This is one of PEPP’s scheduled activities for the year as our way of accompanying the peace process between the GPH and the NDFP. The College of the Holy Spirit committed to journey with PEPP as partner in this endeavor and in the future. The theme “Partnership for Peace – Dignity for All” encourages everyone to support and stand with the millions of peoples across the world who are suffering from the devastating impacts of violence and conflict. Here at home, our Lumad brothers and sisters are displaced due to intensive and massive militarization in their communities. In September 1 , Emerito ‘Tatay Emok’ Samarca, Executive Director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Development, Inc. (ALCADEV) a school for Lumads, Dionel Campos, chairperson of MAPASU (Persevering Struggle for Future Manobo Generations), and his cousin Aurelio “Bello” Sinzo, were killed on the same day allegedly by paramilitary elements. This triggered the massive displacement of their community in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
It is time we all work for peace with justice.
To mark the international celebration, the ecumenical peace forum was organized in support of the Lumad. More than 60 participants composed of students and professors from the College of the Holy Spirit, members and organizations under PEPP, and representatives from the Lumad community, attended the activity.
A video documentary entitled “Pangandoy”, which showcases the different experiences of the Lumad before and after the military’s encroachment in their communities, was shown at the start of the forum. Prof. Lizette Tapia-Raquel of the Union Theological Seminary (UTS), delivered a message which is about “Crying out, Resisting, Asserting and Celebrating”. She stated that as Christians, when we see injustice and human rights violations, we should also hear the cry of the people who are in need and be one with them especially the Lumad. She said that the Lumad will continue their struggle even without us, but being one with them would help us broaden and deepen our faith with God. “Crying out for and with those who need God the most, resisting to uphold and defend life and dignity, asserting God’s vision of home is for all and celebrating life for all ….this afternoon is an invitation to serve God and we can only serve God by serving the people….” Prof. Tapia-Raquel stated.
Representatives from the Lumad shared their experiences at their communities. Dolphing B. Ogan, Secretary General of Kalumaran, an organization of the Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao said that they started their annual ‘Manilakbayan’ last 2011 because the situation of the Lumads in Mindanao is not being publicized in Manila. Since last year, they experienced heightened attacks in their communities and their schools. He said that under the Aquino administration, there are already 72 victims of extra-judicial killings among indigenous people, 58 of them are Lumad. Justice to them remains elusive. He also added that almost half of the mineral deposits in the Philippines are found in Mindanao and they are mostly in Lumad communities. He said that foreign investors, with the approval of the government, have mining claims on their ancestral lands. This, according to him, is the main reason for the militarization of their communities. Talang, one of the volunteer teachers for the Manobo students in Surigao del Sur, also shared her experiences. According to her, their ancestors or even their parents have to walk 16 kilometers almost every day just to go to school. Aside from being bullied and discriminated in schools, they also experienced militarization where they have to hide in the mountains. A priest told them that they will not gain other people’s respect if they would not have unity. This gave birth to their organization,‘MAPASU’ (Mahalutayong Pakibisug alang alang sa Sumusulon or the Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation). Their organization aims to preserve their ancestral lands and to build schools in their own communities in order to educate their people, which they did successfully. She said that the government seems to dislike this development. From 2005 to the present, they experienced attacks which led them to evacuate their communities every now and then. She also shared about the killings of their tribal leaders in the presence of the whole community last Sept. 1, 2015. She called for a thorough investigation of that incident. She also called for the disarming and disbanding of the paramilitary group ALAMARA and Magahat-Bagani and to allow for their safe return to their communities. She then expressed the hope that the accusations against them that they are members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and their schools serves as training grounds for the said group would also end.
Each representative from the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines – Women (AMRSP), Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) and the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF) gave their solidarity messages.
The program ended with a Taize prayer led by the professors and students from the College of the Holy Spirit.