ARNOLD P. ALAMON January 29, 2019
ALARMING news greeted us a fortnight ago when word spread that Lumad stalwart Datu Jomorito Goaynon and peasant leader Ireneo Udarbe went missing since the morning of January 28, 2019.
Details from fact sheets circulating revealed that two mass leaders from the northern Mindanao region representing Kalumbay, a regional Lumad organization, and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas also in the region, were on their way to a scheduled dialogue at the local Commission on Human Rights office involving complaints of an indigenous community in Bukidnon against a military unit before they went missing. Since then, they have not been seen or heard from by their officemates and family members nor have they been able to establish contact with anyone.
The context of their disappearance is chilling. Just days before, the walls of the Iglesia Filipina de Indipindiente or IFI compound in Bulua, Cagayan de Oro where Kalumbay and KMP-NMR holds office were spray-painted with vilifying messages, red-tagging the church and its supporters as coddlers of rebel groups. The pattern, as the gruesome events in Negros Occidental and elsewhere in Visayas and Mindanao, have borne out is that personalities are red-tagged before they are “neutralized” in military parlance, as the case was for Atty. Ben Ramos, peasant human rights lawyer gunned down in Sipalay City. He, too, was identified as a rebel sympathizer before he was shot in cold blood in the evening of November 6, 2018.
It is an accusation that Datu Jomorito and Ireneo Udarbe have faced time and time again in their work as mass leaders of people’s organizations and as human rights defenders. Often, when they stand up to become the voice of indigenous communities who are driven off their ancestral domains for extractive industries or of peasant communities displaced from their land and work by large-scale agricultural enterprises often with the backing of the military, they are quickly accused as rebel sympathizers and recruiters.
The defense of brave people like Atty. Ben, Datu Jomo, and Manong Ireneo is that they do not carry guns in fighting for their advocacies, just their right to speak and be heard in a nation that is supposed protect these democratic rights for everyone. Why should they be afraid to witness of what they see and know?, they would tell themselves. If they do not speak up for the lowly and voiceless, who will?
Apparently, such convictions come at a dear dear price. Such is the cost of being a human rights defender in a nation where the state forces enjoy a climate of impunity. Civil rights are trampled in favor of the state’s security goals no matter the method and the costs. Mere suspicion and association provide the military and the police with enough logic to assassinate and/or abduct in the name of the counterinsurgency objective or the drug war. In this instance, even individuals whose rights are protected by the Constitution can just disappear or be killed.
I know of Datu Jomo in my work as research director of the Mindanao Interfaith Institute on Lumad Studies or MIILS. The book “Wars of Extinction” was completed in close coordination with him and Kalumbay. In our many key informant sessions, Datu Jomo impressed me as a true Lumad advocate and leader who had a clear grasp of where they are as a people in the context of their history and struggle as a marginalized group. I would even wager to say that many of the insights from the book are actually theirs and I was a mere translator of their collective convictions and aspirations. His disappearance is troubling and alarming to say the least for us researchers who have learned a lot from their experiences in our academic work.
As I have warned months ago, the apparatuses behind the costly drug war is now being oriented against human rights defenders such as Datu Jomo and Manong Ireneo and other personalities in the open mass movement. The fact that these two local personalities have gone missing also conveys a chilling indication that the ensuing carnage in Negros Occidental may now have finally reached our shores. In this instance, I really hope I am wrong and the two are surfaced and brought back to their families and friends immediately. Surface Datu Jomo and Ireneo Now!
Source: Sunstar CdO
Date: january 29, 2019