Philippines’ bishops urge military and rebels: leave indigenous alone (10/19/07)
By Maurice Malanes, Ecumenical News International
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines (ENI, 10/19/07) —Roman Catholic bishops in the Philippines have called on the military and rebel groups to stop recruiting people from indigenous tribal communities, and to prevent their homelands from becoming battle grounds.
"We are alarmed by the systematic recruitment of indigenous peoples into paramilitary groups," said Bishop Sergio Utleg, chairperson of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples, in a recent statement.
His comments followed the Sept. 18-21 national convention of the commission's provincial coordinators and indigenous representatives in Baguio City.
Utleg said he learned during the convention that the Philippines military was giving between 1,000 and 3,000 pesos (around US$22-$66) and a sack of rice to each indigenous community member recruited to fight the New People's Army, the armed wing of the clandestine Communist Party of the Philippines.
The insurgent group has been waging a guerrilla war against the Philippines government for the past 38 years.
Utleg said he was equally alarmed by the recruitment of indigenous peoples into the New People's Army. "To involve indigenous peoples in military or New People's Army activities is to make their communities potential permanent battlegrounds," Utleg said. Members of indigenous communities are labeled by the military as "NPA sympathizers," and by the NPA as "military assets."
About 15 million of the 91 million Philippine population are indigenous peoples who, despite Spanish and American colonization, have maintained their distinct way of life.
Utleg also noted that mining companies have been recruiting indigenous peoples as part of their security forces in areas where there is strong indigenous community opposition to mining.
"Indigenous peoples have been so marginalized by the loss of their ancestral domain, the depletion of the forest due to logging, and the intrusion of mining. Let us not add more to their suffering," said Utleg.