gjv2013

NGOs

The Government here is under the impression that they stand to gain from protecting outside corporations over their own people, which they truly do not.

As a result anyone who tries to organize the people, to speak out against the injustice to the poor, who makes too much noise, the government tries to silence. By using the military as a mercenary group the Filipino government cuts down any opposition that speaks for the people by branding them as Maoist insurgents trying to overthrow the unjust status quo. 

However, the people know better. There is a network of NGOs, of which InPeace involved, that is dedicated to finding and exposing the truth of the atrocities carried out by the western corporations and covered up by the government. To be an activist here is to deal with real issues and the danger that if you fight too fiercely to help the people defend what is theirs, the government will retaliate with no accountability.

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After hiking through the rainforest for 45 minutes we came upon this beautiful place. The locals get to it by a footpath, and hope that the government doesn’t find out about it because then it will be exploited like many similar places. 

We ate lunch and swam, but then it started raining (it tends to do that here) and we had to leave before our mountain trail became too muddy. In our haste Karolyne and I got stung by some sort of evil tropical plant which made our feet feel like they were on fire for the better part of 24 hours, no matter how much benadryl we put on it!

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Pagadian City is forcing residents of a small island barangay in the Pagadian City municipality to relocate to Barangay White Beach in order to make room for resorts on the island that the people previously inhabited.

There are no companies making bid for this land yet, the government is simply clearing this land in the hopes that it will attract large resorts that they believe will feed the economy.

Over 200 families have been forced to relocate to a muddy strip of land that was already occupied by a poor community that is forced to sell seaweed to get by. These “settlers” are being seen as thieves for doing as the government tells them. Their houses are torn down and tied into bundles that they must then rebuild on White Beach

To be a fisherman here in the Philippines is to live a hard life. As restrictions on the manner of fishing arise in order to appease environmentalist groups, the people who make their livelihood based on what they can sell in the local market are being forced to compete more and more with local fish farms.

Many people rent the land their homes are built on at exorbitant rates, their boats are still rudimentary canoes without engines, which means that simply getting to the open water costs precious time and energy.

Poverty is a huge problem in these communities and their children usually do not go to school, some dropping out as early as elementary school in order to help support the family by digging for clams along the muddy shore. None go to college.

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These are just a few of the people whose homes have been destroyed due to land grabbing. All of the demolished homes were belonging to those who had the right to claim the land according to the Filipino constitution, and therefore the landlord wanted to push them out before his greed became too contested.

Most of these people either living in the homes of their children, the local elementary school, or the Barangay (neighborhood council) office.

Each couple is pictured next to the land that once held their home.

The Actual Conflict

While Christians and Muslims had enjoyed a relatively peaceful coexistence before U. S. intervention, there was and still is a significant struggle and threat to the livelihoods of millions of people in Mindanao. 

Mindanao itself is the region of the highest poverty, hunger, illiteracy, malnutrition and morbidity in the Philippines, yet it has some of the most natural resources being home to gold, silver, and many other precious metals. The soil is rich in nutrients and can sustain a variety of crops. 

So why is Mindanao so poor?

The people are no longer in control of their own land. Huge companies come in from the west and build plantations, or mine the mountains for oil. They claim land that has historically belonged to indigenous nomadic tribes and desecrate their sacred places all for the sake of profit. 

When the Lumad choose to fight back they are silenced. At InPeace we are fighting for these peoples rights, while researching and exposing all the illegal and disturbing practices of these huge corporations.

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My final immersion was in a Lumad village called Dulyan. It took us two hours in a bus, an hour and a half jeepney ride to get to the base of the mountains, then there was another hour and a half jaunt on a motorcycle with very muddy roads from the typhoon that had come through the night before. Then, we got to trek for 20km where the motorcycle couldn’t pass in order to reach this village. To be sure it was the most difficult community to reach.

Because they are so isolated, this area had little to nothing in the way of schooling until the year 2004 when The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines helped to build and fund a community literacy program which has since evolved to have two sister schools and boasted its first high school graduating class in August of 2012. The kids range from three years old to twenty one, depending on the harvest times and the teachers are young volunteers who are fresh from university and live in a small house together and rely on the community to eat. 

The unity of these people is amazing. From what I could see this community was barely touched by the westernization that has dominated so much of the rest the Philippines. The children are active in preserving their culture, and performed a traditional dance for Karolyne and I depicting traditional life for the tribes. Many times they do not have enough to eat because the virgin rainforest was stripped and logged fifteen years ago and now the region is exposed and prone to landslides.

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Last Monday Karolyne and I were privileged to be apart of the SONA protests that corresponded with President Aquino’s State of the Nation speech. We joined an international delegation of over 100 people from over 60 different countries in marching and chanting “Long live international solidarity!” and “The people united will never be defeated!”

As we marched we were conscious of all the people around who were fighting for their most basic rights. A massive group of farmers came saying “we are the ones who feed you, why are you trying to oppress us?” Doctors marched to keep hospitals from being privatized, because doing so will make it impossible for the poor to receive life saving medical treatment. There was even a group from the Church, marching to show that those who claim to follow the teachings of Christ should be fighting for the rights of their fellow men. 

We encountered heavily armed police in full riot gear, barricaded roads and fire trucks prepared to spray us, yet after breaking through the lines of the barricades, we were able to hold our protest in the street. It was an “unsanctioned event” because the permits were refused when the organizers petitioned for them due to concern for stopping traffic, yet the police had put massive cargo crates in the street to act as wall and stop our march. 

The most impressive thing to me was the passion that all of the people there had for their cause. I witnessed an army of Nuns running at full speed down the street in order to break down the fence that was keeping us from marching on, and I then saw these same nuns negotiating with the policemen to take down the barricade. It was truly a humbling day.

Today I marched, along with hundreds my Filipino brothers and sisters in protest as Aquino gave his third State of the nation address. As we were marching some of my comrades began the chorus of “Do you hear the people sing?” and I almost cried as I joined in. Never before had I realized how many people that song resonates with. It is truly as much of rallying cry for the very real class struggles here in the Philippines and indeed all around the world as it was for the French revolution it was written for.

How often have I simply heard that song without really listening? Its words are full of power and a rallying cry to all who have ever been oppressed, and I in my privileged place had only ever considered it a to be a small finale to close an act of a play about something long past. How entitled am I that I never even considered that just the simple words “Join in the fight that will give you the right to be free. Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me? Somewhere beyond this barricade is there a world you want to see? Do you hear the people sing? Say, do you hear the distant drums? That is the truth about to start when tomorrow comes.”

It has been a very dramatic day, and I promise to post more about it throughout this next week.

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*The following post contains very graphic language of violence against minors*

Early this week we joined a group of seventy Filipinos for what is called a Community Solidarity Mission in the mountainous municipality of Bayog. We went in a force on Tuesday to investigate the human rights violations perpetrated by Toronto Ventures Incorporated, a very prominent Canadian mining company.

We drove for five hours into the mountains, proving to those who wish to repress these perpetrators that their actions are not a secret. People know what has happened to the people and we are willing to stand with them and make sure their stories are heard. Eight victims or family members of martyrs came back to Pagadian City with us, but they are still terrified to speak. Their family still lives in the mountains around Bayog, and the military is still present and protecting the foreign interests over those of the people. In the end, only two came forward to tell their stories in a press conference held on Wednesday, this is the story of Judy.  (Pictured above)

Judy, who is seventeen years old, worked for a small-scale miner in Bayog when he was followed home from work one evening and forcibly taken to the TVI office in Bayog. Upon arrival, Judy discovered that there were five others being held, shackled with handcuffs. One of these five was a ten year old boy.

In order to gain influence over the father of the boy, who was among the number in chains, the kidnappers put this child into a burlap sack, attached that sack to a backhoe, and sent the machinery out to be used for mining. Judy witnessed the psychological terror that the father went through as he begged and pleaded with the kidnappers to release his son, escalating from the promise of silence to begging to be killed so that his child might be safe. His pleas were ignored and he, along with Judy and the others, was beaten severely. 

For 24 hours the little boy was suspended in the sack attached to dangerous machinery. He waited until his area was abandoned at the end of the day, and then was able to use a small knife hidden in his shoe to escape. Instead of immediately escaping however, this brave child went back to rescue his father.

The group was caught as they were attempting to flee, but everyone but Judy was able to escape. Judy was then beaten, tortured and forced to be a driver for his captors. He got away one week later.

This is only one story of the intimidation used by large scale mining corporations in order to scare people off of the land that is theirs by ancestral right. The leaders of the communities have been paid off so that they will sign contracts that rip the land from the people while they enjoy the fruits of a vast fortune. The people are all but powerless to fight such a huge company, any lawsuit is crushed before it even reaches the courts and those who have proof of the daily injustice and militarization are afraid to come forward.

Judy still lives with his family in Bayog. By speaking to us he has put them into great danger, and he is afraid for his life. His bravery in telling his story to the press must not be ignored. It is our responsibility to pass on these stories of human rights violations being perpetrated within the culture of impunity that is so prevalent here in the Philippines.

Just an update

I’m at the International Conference for Human Rights and Peace right now, and the stuff that we are getting into is heavy. I will do my best to post from my immersions earlier this week, because there are stories that need to be told, but I am also attempting to process all of the information that we are trying to pack into three days.

Hopefully I will be posting more soon!