Indigenous youth network denounces military “hitlist”

SIKLAB Philippine Indigenous Youth Network denounces the military hit list circulated during the Hustisya-Northern Mindanao launch on 22 February 2019. This is another cowardly act aimed at individuals and organizations who openly oppose the gross human rights violation in the country and the Supreme Court’s decision to extend Martial Law in Mindanao.

The flyer tagged as terrorists, youth and teachers’ organizations, lawyers, church workers, rights advocates, and a journalist. Among the many names listed was SIKLAB Coordinator for Mindanao, Ritchel Hilogon. She had just recently accepted an award for Radyo Lumad, a community-based radio program that was set up in 2017. She is an active human rights defender among the Lumad youth. She helped facilitate the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Training on Human Rights, Documentation, Monitoring, and Community Defense in November 2018.

Ritchel is a Higaonon human rights defender
Ritchel is a youth leader of the Higaonon tribe. She joined Tagtabulon Lumad Organization, a member of Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization in 2014. This was not an easy decision at that time considering that several farmers were held at gunpoint; food crops were being uprooted and destroyed; houses were burned; and a community member, Rolen Langala was shot and stabbed to death while their leader, Gilbert Paborada was assassinated.

Their tribe stood firm against A. Brown Company, Inc. that encroached 520 hectares of the Higaonon ancestral domain in Opol, Misamis Oriental. This displaced indigenous farmers and made the community vulnerable to hazardous chemicals used in the palm oil plantation. Their traditional sacred areas were quarried and the tree that marked their burial and ritual area was logged.

Following the massive deforestation, rats and other pests destroy corn, banana, cassava, or whatever people have managed to plant. The displaced indigenous farmers became farmworkers who tilled other people’s farms for a meager amount of money. They have sought help from the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and their Local Government Unit (LGU) but to no avail.

When Rodrigo Duterte assumed presidency in 2016, the situation worsened. Paramilitary groups and goons of local politicians follow Duterte’s pronouncements as if they were marching orders.

Several months back, despite incessant attacks against human rights defenders, Ritchel and her organization helped organized a National Solidarity Mission regarding the issues faced by the evacuees in Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental. The mission called the attention of responsible government agencies and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) regional office.

While this vilification drive makes human rights advocates like Ritchel easy target for further harassments and extrajudicial killings, the state forces also fancifully use the Anti-Terror Law to prosecute them. With the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IALAC), a rehash of Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term, human rights defenders are being criminalized and prosecuted.

Ritchel and the rest of the people labelled as members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) were just recently campaigning for the release of four members of Misamis Oriental Farmers Association and activist leaders Datu Jomorito Guaynon of Kalumbay and Ireneo Udarbe of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) who were illegally arrested and filed with trumped-up cases.

Ritchel is among many indigenous youths who, despite the dangers in activism, decided to stand up for their rights as indigenous people and linked arms with people’s movements to amplify their voices. Apparently, standing up for what is fair and just subjects youth like Ritchel to a frantic witch hunt.

We will not stop. SIKLAB stands in solidarity with Ritchel. No coward acts from the state security forces will dampen the fervor of indigenous youth in exposing the truth and in working tirelessly for a future where our right to self-determination is respected and our ancestral lands are not sold to private companies. So long as our rights are trampled, expect us to always be in the front line.
#StopTheAttacks#EndMartialLaw#DefendAncestralLands *photo courtesy of www.bulatlat.com

Source: SIKLAB PHILIPPINE INDIGENOUS YOUTH NETWORK facebook page

Date: February 25, 2019