As I write this, more than 700 people from the Philippines’ Lumad indigenous communities in Mindanao reache the city of Manila to make their plight known.
The 1,500-kilometer Lumad caravan culminated October 26, as they arrived in Manila to protest the rise in violent attacks over indigenous communities in the last 4 months. They demand respect for their right to life, land, and justice from the government led by President Benigno Aquino III.
"We live in a world where the development paradigm of 'economic growth at any cost' turns people and ecosystems into collateral damage in many places around the globe."
The Philippines' Department of Energy (DOE) is encouraging investors to submit applications for the exploration and viability assessment of coal reserves in the island of Mindanao. Through violence, paramilitary groups want to make sure that communities consent to the operation of the mining corporations which will profit from the conversion of forests into plantations, and the encroachment of mineral and coal extraction across Lumad ancestral domains.
On September 1, suspected paramilitary squads forced people out of their homes and killed three men. They were indigenous leaders and the director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), which provides basic and technical education to Lumad children in communities rarely reached by government services.
The plight of the Lumad is part of a worldwide phenomenon rooted in the same global economic system that breeds violence, exploitation, pollution, and climate change. From the Asheninka in the Peruvian Amazon to the Batin Sembilan in Indonesia, indigenous communities that oppose extractive and fossil fuel corporations are being met with repression and plunder.
Connect the dots
News of what is happening in Mindanao remind me of the kind of violence that I witnessed first-hand in the island of Mindoro, named by early Spanish colonists (‘Mina de Oro’ means ‘gold mine’). I was a parish priest immersed in the campaign to oppose the incursion of the proposed Mindoro Nickel Project, operated by Intex Resources, into the ancestral territories of Alangan and Tadyawan tribes of the Mangyans.
We live in a world where the development paradigm of 'economic growth at any cost' turns people and ecosystems into collateral damage in many places around the globe. Corporate power wielding its influence on the government and overwhelming communities becomes the immediate consequence of this development model.
The largest mineral deposits in the Philippines can be found in Mindanao, where the number of mining agreements and permits now stands at 131, and 80% of these are in ancestral territories. In Mindanao, this economic model means mineral extraction and land conversion encroaching on indigenous peoples' communities.
Tragically, Lumad communities are caught in the crosshairs of the few who benefit from the destruction of precious natural resources, seeing how their community cohesion is gradually destroyed by mining, illegal logging, and land grabbing. To date, 680 Lumad people are internally displaced in Davao City, having left their terrorized communities in Bukidnon, Mindanao. In Surigao del Sur, more than 3,000 individuals sought refuge in a ballfield at the Provincial Sports Complex in Tandag, Surigao. While those who dared to speak against this encroachment are met with violence.
The Lumad as Our Neighbor
In many instances Pope Francis has declared that creation exists for the common good. But how can it provide for the good of all when it is plundered by the wealthy few? How can it be used for the common good if extractive industries worship profits over people?
It is deplorable that the Lumad have to go all the way to Manila, to bear testimony of the senseless neglect of their rights. The killings of Lumad in Mindanao are not isolated cases, the recent rise of violence against indigenous communities should remind us of the need to put forward a form of development that looks after both the well being of people and the environment.
In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus answers the question "who is my neighbor?", reminding us that we are the keeper of one another. The plight of the Lumads to thrive in a society that favors profits before people and nature is calling for us to be good neighbors to the many being victimized by this system.
Woe to the Unarmed
Their plight is a simple case of outsiders exploiting the resources and encroaching on a territory that should solely belong to Lumads. This is why I join the call for an end to violence. I stand with the Lumads in their cry for justice and I endorse the call of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for investigations to hold any parties and institutions involved in the murders accountable
The work to care for our common home is one that advances human rights and sustainability as building blocks for a view of development which benefits both the people and the planet.