On the Killing of Voiceless and Defenseless Lumads
The prophets of the Old Testament repeatedly excoriated God’s people for worship that failed the test of authenticity. Ritual and ceremony are empty unless God is worshipped by hearkening to cries for justice and the lamentation of the oppressed.
Recently, Lumads in Surigao del Sur were cut down, witnesses claim, by an armed militia group. The Association of Major Religious Superiors has named the Magahat-Bagani Force, a militia group.
In behalf of the voiceless and the defenseless, the CBCP endeavors to worship the Living God in Spirit and in Truth by taking up the cudgels for the fallen, and for their grieving families and bereaved communities. The CBCP asks the government for an honest, thorough, impartial and speedy investigation so that the guilty may be held to account for their wrong-doing.
Indigenous peoples and cultural communities are already disadvantaged in a number of ways. They are, in our day and age, the ‘anawim Yahweh, the poor of the Lord who have no avenger and none to stand for their rights. That their leaders and members should suffer yet the tragedy that has recently been visited upon them only underscores their plight as marginalized and underserved, apparently outside the pall of protection even of the law. This cannot be just. This cannot be the will of God.
That a militia group has been named is likewise troubling. Militia groups, by their very nature, do not fall under a clear, established and accessible chain of command. Government makes use of such groups for counter-insurgency, counter-rebellion maneuvers. It is their association with government that can be pernicious, for while they act with the tacit consent, if not authority of state agents, they cannot be held to account for their actions by the regular channels of accountability and attribution that exist in the regular armed forces and police.
We are disturbed profoundly by reports that national leaders have been quick to exonerate the militia group of wrong-doing. This alarming eagerness to deny culpability does not augur well for truth and for justice. Such declarations inspire credence only after a reliable and trustworthy investigation by impartial and competent persons shall have taken place. If made before any such investigation, they disturbingly suggest a refusal to hold accountable those to whom the Administration so eagerly extends its mantle of protection.
We call on all who have direct and competent proof of facts to contribute to the just resolution of this tragedy visited on indigenous Filipinos. We respectfully invite the attention of the State to the fact that under accepted principles of international law, state responsibility lies where persons acting in behalf of the State commit some actionable wrong, and the State hesitates about acting or, worse, refuses to act. If militia groups cannot fit within a structure of clear authority and command by legitimate state authority, they should not be tolerated, much less employed as mercenaries by the State. We ask our indigenous Filipino brothers and sisters to keep their faith in the ways of peace and to abide by the law, even as they rightly press for the vindication of their rights.
From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, September 11, 2015
(Sgd)+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan