Govt, NGOs form Bukidnon human rights coordinating council

Higaonon Datu Aligpulos Timbangan of the Bukidnon Higaonon Tribal Association give a copy of the tribe’s Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan to Carl Binayao of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in a recent presentation activity in Malaybalay City. The plan is an assertion of the tribe’s economic, socio-cultural and political rights| Bukidnon

MALAYBALAY CITY (Bukidnon November) To ensure protection from human rights violations and abuses, representatives from different sectors in Bukidnon created a multi-sector human rights coordinating council, an initiative made by government agencies led by the Commission on Human Rights and non-government organizations.

Inlantong Erwin Marte, chair of the Bukidnon Tribal Development Council of Elders (Butridce), told Bukidnon Sunday, the council will help address the many human rights violations confronting vulnerable sectors such as the indigenous peoples and farmers in the province, especially with the lack of personnel at the CHR.

“This should help minimize the number of violations and to help educate the public on human rights,” he added.

About 14 parties, led by the CHR, signed a memorandum of agreement on October 24 to formalize the council, according to an email from organizers.

Among those who were reported to have signed the MOA includes “duty holders” of human rights in government such as the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Department of Agrarian Reform, the Philippine National Police, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Bukidnon was also represented in the council by Datu Mayda Pandian, indigenous people’s mandatory representative. Pandian heads the committee on the IPs in the provincial board.

Non-government organizations working with human rights protection have also signed like the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (Pakisama), Learning Resource Center-KSK/FOE-Philippines, Balaod Mindanaw, Inc., Butridce, Diocese of Malaybalay’s Indigenous Peoples Apostolate (IPA) and Social Action Center (SAC),  Panaw Sumilao Multi-purpose Cooperative, and Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP).

Marte, who was appointed as focal person in Bukidnon, said the coordinating council emerged from the CHR’s initiative for community dialogue, the latest in August 2012 in Bukidnon.

He said the CHR will act as coordinator of the council while the facilitator will come from the CSOs.

As an offshoot of the dialogue, five sectoral committees were formed, namely, government agencies duty bearers on human rights; civil society organizations, security, the indigenous peoples, and farmers.

He clarified that the coordinating council is the community’s response to the shortcomings of the CHR.

“There has to be a body that ensures the human rights violations and abuses in Bukidnon are addressed,” he added.

The group, according to a copy of the MOA, may conduct quick response and/or fact-finding missions relating to human rights violations and abuses to address specific concerns of the identified marginalized sectors.

“However, each offices or organizations reserve the right to make its independent findings in accordance with the mandate of its institutions,” they added in the MOA.

Among the things the council seeks to do, he added, is to conduct multi-sectoral fact-finding missions to verify reports of human rights violations such as those in Dao, San Fernando, home of slain village chief Jimmy Liguyon.

He said the reported slaying in March 5 has created repercussions and yet no multi-party verification was sent on the roots of the problem in the area.

“We wonder why there had been warrants of arrest issued on the suspect (Aldy “Butchoy” Salusad) and yet he has never been arrested,” he added.

Marte added that the case has been with the CHR already that is why they are prioritizing it.

He said the military and the police allegedly failed to come out with “clear reports” on the matter.

The council, Marte said, also planned to look into the displacement of Manobos in Don Carlos town due to overlapping claims by agrarian reform beneficiaries. The council also will back the reopening or reinvestigation of the case of slain Sumilao-farmer leader Rene Peñas, and other cases.

The human rights coordinating council, he added, is set to focus on collective human rights such as civil-political, economic, socio-cultural rights among IPs and farmers, who are highly vulnerable to violations and abuses.

Marte said they have considered looking into the human rights impact of development projects such as the proposed Pulangi V hydroelectric power plant and the expansion of fruit plantations in the province.

The MOA also provided that the CSOs shall act as local monitors on human rights violations and abuses, internal displacements, issues and concerns affecting the identified marginalized sectors and provide initial information to the Commission on Human Rights for referral to member agencies for immediate response.

The coordinating council also intends to reach out to communities in need of paralegal trainings, advocacy programs and other services to capacitate and empower community leaders in accessing their rights in accordance with laws and existing rules and regulations.

Also, the council intended to provide programs that “will enhance or strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples, farmers and internally displaced persons.”

Notably, local government executives were not among signatories of the MOA.

Marte said they avoided them to keep the initiative from being politicized.

He noted, however, that local legislative bodies, which have mandate on human rights protection, were included that is why Datu Pandian is a signatory.  (Walter I. Balane/Bukidnon