The government views with deep concern the reported acts of aggression against the Lumads of Eastern and Northern Mindanao, specifically in Davao del Norte, Bukidnon, and Surigao del Sur. In response to said incidents, the Office of the President has directed the Department of Justice to conduct an investigation into the alleged transgressions committed against the Lumads in the mentioned areas. Pursuant to this presidential directive, the Secretary of Justice has formed a special joint team of National Prosecution Service (NPS) state prosecutors and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) officials and agents to immediately conduct an investigation.
To be sure, some of these incidents have already been investigated and have resulted in the filing of the proper criminal complaints before the public prosecutor for preliminary investigation and/or the filing of the criminal informations in the proper courts. The DOJ investigation is thus aimed at bolstering the cases already filed through case build-up and investigating those yet uninvestigated incidents.
The Department of Justice has been following the unfolding events in and around the Lumad communities also with great concern. The incidents have undeniably increased ethnic strife and exacerbated political tensions in the hinterlands, with some reports indicating that the violence is inflicted by armed groups of one Lumad tribe against the unarmed civilian population of rival indigenous communities. Initial reports also suggest that the transgressions which resulted in the death and injury of members of Indigenous Peoples’ communities and the destruction of their property involved paramilitary groups.
The reported involvement of paramilitary groups in the recent spate of violence against the Lumads must be treated with grave concern, considering their long tradition of involvement in criminal activities in Mindanao. These crimes include vigilante operations of the most heinous kind, whether in the name of counter-insurgency or tribal retribution. In the DOJ investigation, we are also going to dig deeper into the links these paramilitary groups have with organized crime.
Paramilitary groups accrue power and influence by force. Over the years, these groups, also known as private armed groups, have killed and stolen from thousands of civilians all over the Philippines, especially in Mindanao. As such, our goal must not be limited to prosecuting the offenders and disarming these groups, but must extend to a conclusive probe on their supporters who fuel their criminal operations and acts of violence. Even as we condemn these paramilitary groups and their benefactors, all parties must go beyond and show resolve in putting an end to their reign of terror in the Lumad communities.
There is no doubt that both the New People’s Army (NPA) and their allied organizations, on the one hand, and some elements of the State’s security forces, on the other, have played a role in a situation where the Lumads are caught in the middle of an armed rebellion and the consequent counter-insurgency operations. Most probably than not, as indicated in the initial reports, Lumad tribes are pitted against one another and made to choose sides in this conflict, especially with the heightened recruitment by the NPA from the areas where these people live and the consequent intensification of armed operations. In this situation, the State’s mandate to preserve peace and enforce law and order in the affected communities must continue, while ensuring that non-combatants are not caught in the crossfire. The protection of non-combatants cannot be compromised. Violators will be held to account.
It has also become apparent that the finger-pointing that is currently taking place amidst the violence, and carried over to the national press through an aggressive and concerted media blitz conducted by anti-administration forces, unnecessarily contributes to the polarization of an already inflamed situation, at the expense of the Lumads caught in the middle. It is important that we cut through the din and obfuscation in order to undertake objective investigations. Ideological agendas should be set aside so the facts can surface from all the political noise. Truth is not established merely by shouting the loudest and making the most noise.
In light of these unfortunate conditions that have plagued our nation since the advent of rebellion and insurrection, and the corresponding State reaction, it is imperative that military and law enforcement operations are conducted with the utmost concern and attention to international humanitarian laws and human rights that govern the conduct of combatant forces in an armed conflict. At the same time, the non-state actors involved, the NPA and paramilitary forces alike, must in turn stop the armed actions that have already caused countless civilian casualties. These antagonists must cease and desist from inflicting further acts of violence, whether against each other, the government, or non-combatant civilians, and instead comply with international humanitarian laws and observe the basic human rights to life and peace of the civilian populations in the mountains, especially that of children, women, and the elderly.
The government therefore sees as a positive intervention the calls for a comprehensive process and peaceful resolution to the conflict already put forward by non-partisan sectors. The government reaffirms its policy that it stands for peace without impunity, and justice without surrender. The DOJ assures the public that any human rights violation and criminal offense committed will be investigated and prosecuted with determination. The DOJ will thus continue to conduct in depth and objective investigations, regardless of whether the perpetrators are the NPA, paramilitary groups, or members of the state security forces.