11/12/2015, 00.00
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Card. Tagle for tribal Lumad: military and rebels abandon their "land for peace"

A delegation of 700 indigenous people walked from Mindanao to Manila to appeal to the government to solve their situation. The Lumad are threatened by those who want to exploit their "ancestral lands". The archbishop of Manila meets them: " What is prevailing is chaos, violence, injustice”.

Manila (AsiaNews) - " We’re all to blame for what’s happening to our lumad brethren in Mindanao. What is happening … is very depressing and alarming. Some of them have died or were killed. Many were forced to evacuate and abandon their homes and their ancestral lands", says the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal. Luis Antonio Tagle, visiting a camp of tribal Lumad in Liwasang Bonifacio, in the center of Manila.

About 700 indigenous people from the island of Mindanao, launched the Manilakbayan 2015, a long march from their land to the Philippine capital (more than 1000 km), to protest with the government over their situation. They arrived on November 2 and will remain camped until 22.

The Lumad are a number of indigenous tribes who live in various locations in the Philippines, mostly in Mindanao. Fr. Giovanni Re, PIME regional superior in the country, describes the situation: "They live in certain areas that are coveted by those with plantations, who want to develop mines and get these lands to exploit them. The lands, however, are under the ancestral domain, a particular law obliging those who want to enter the territories to ask permission from the chief of the tribe".

"The problem - continues Fr. Re - it is that in recent years several leaders have been killed or forced to flee because they opposed to the exploitation of their lands. Their murderers have never been found. There have been very few arrests.  The military is active in those areas of Mindanao and have (unofficially) formed paramilitary groups to fight the communist rebels of the New People's Army (NPA) - the armed wing of the National Democratic Front (NDF) – who are hiding there. The Lumad are paying the price for these clashes. Some accuse the paramilitaries of the murders, but it is more likely that there are big mining or agricultural companies behind these killings".

Card. Tagle met tribal leaders, including Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, a woman from Pantaron Manobo. In a written message, the archbishop said that, because of the violence, the Lumad have "lost their livelihood. Their children stopped schooling. The elderly, the sick, the children and women suffered even more. The environment was damaged. What is prevailing is chaos, violence, injustice and lack of peace and order in their communities".

The Archbishop of Manila has called on the Philippine government to demilitarize the lands of the Lumad and disarm the paramilitary groups active there: "We appeal to both the military and the NDF to leave the lands of our brothers as Lumad, a 'land for peace' ".

Bai Bibyaon thanked Card. Tagle for his support: "With the intensified militarization in our communities, it’s as if the military and the government wants to eradicate us from the map. As one of the church leaders, we share with you the responsibility to call for the pull out of military troops from our communities".


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