International activist groups and religious missionaries in the Philippines have launched an investigation into the recent killings of tribal people in the southern region of Mindanao. “The continuing killings of tribal people is an urgent matter that the government must address,” said Ailene Villarosa, advocacy program officer of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. Villarosa told ucanews.com that 24 foreign delegates are joining the “international solidarity mission” that will visit tribal farming communities in the province of Bukidnon. Gunmen shot Danny Diarog and Hermie Alegre, while they were returning home from a meeting with the government’s National Commission on Indigenous People, on July 15. Diarog, head of the Bagobo K’lata tribe and member of a tribal organization, remained in critical condition in hospital on July 18. Alegre a tribal school parent-teacher association president died in hospital. Pasaka, an alliance of tribal groups in Mindanao, accused soldiers and a local paramilitary group of having a hand in the shootings. Tribal rights group Katribu condemned the attack and called on President Rodrigo Duterte to end what it called a government counterinsurgency program claiming the lives of people in hinterland communities. On July 12, private security officers in Sumilao, in Bukidnon province, allegedly gunned down three Higaonon tribesmen. A 15-year-old tribal girl was also wounded in the attack. In the town of Caraga in Davao Oriental province, some 400 tribal people have fled their homes due to ongoing military operations against communist rebels.
Sister Maria Fatima Somogod, coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, said the international mission has been launched so that will people will understand the situation of tribal communities in Mindanao. “We might see them on the news, but do we really know the story behind these killings,” said Sister Somogod, adding that people should see the situation with their own eyes. “People are quick to judge [tribal people] as against development … but people do not ask why tribal communities opposed the kind of development that the government offers,” the Catholic nun said. She said the investigation and an immersion program, an interfaith activity led by the missionaries, aims to “change biases” against the idea that tribesmen are barbaric. The nun also appealed to the government “to try to understand the context of our indigenous brothers and sisters.” The Rev. John Oda from the United Methodist Church in California said he wants to hear about the struggles and the people and “learn more about what is happening in the region and how we can be in solidarity with them.” The international mission will visit communities in Maramag town in Bukidnon where about 800 tribal families have been asserting their right to land that has been in the control of a state university. The university has since deployed armed guards in the area to stop residents from farming. Members of the mission will release the result of their investigation in an International Conference for People’s Rights later this week. The Rev. Rex Reyes Jr., a member of the board of the World Council of Churches, said the conference will “hear the people’s complaints about continuing rights violations” in the Philippines.