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Fear of paramilitary group sends Lumads fleeing their homes

Thousands of indigenous peoples or Lumad have fled their communities in Mindanao due to the alleged harassment by the paramilitary group Mahagat-Bagani, a report on "News to Go" said Tuesday.

The Lumad members are currently staying in evacuation centers in the region, more than a month after they fled their homes, the report said.

Just last week, three of their leaders were killed in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. The victims were heads of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Center, a Lumad school.

The tribe members claimed that the paramilitary group Mahagat-Bagani, which is allegedly affiliated with the Army's 36th Infantry Battalion, was responsible for the attacks.

"Nakarinig na ako ng putok. Nagtayuan na 'yung mga tao pero sabi nila 'dapa kayo, dapa.' Sabay paputok ng maraming baril. Isa na 'yung nga si Onel namin sa binaril," said Eufemia Campos Cullamat, cousin of slain leaders Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago has already filed a resolution asking for an invstigation to find the military's involvement in the alleged harassment of indigenous peoples.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), however, denied that the military is connected to the Mahagat-Bagani group.

"It's not part of our command and control,"  AFP Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad said in a statement. "We treat them as people who committed a criminal act so we have to run after them."

"We have an ongoing internal investigation also regarding this matter," Baladad added.

Progressive lawmakers under the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives bloc have also filed a resolution seeking a congressional investigation on the killings of the three Lumad leaders.

According to the data of the National Alliance of Indigenous People Organizations of the Philippines, 13 Lumad members have been killed in the past eight months.

Source of conflict

In a separate report in "News to Go," AFP spokesperson Col. Noel Detoyato said the issue stemmed from Lumad schools being used by communist rebels to recruit new members. He said students there are being thought propaganda against the government.

"Apparently, heto ay nagsimula nung na-uncover ng mga...naka-immerse na mga tropa natin [na]
may mga eskwelahan dun na nagtuturo ng mga subject na against sa ating pamahalaan. Pinalitan pa nga nila ang pambansang awit ng Pilipinas," he said.

"So nung ito ay ma-unearth, nagtuloy-tuloy ang pagkalaman natin na may iba pa palang mga eskwelahan na mga ganito, na hindi sanctioned ng DepEd ang mga turo. Dito sila nagsimula ng mga propaganda nila," Detoyato added.

Detoyato also said the paramilitary group may be composed of members of the Lumad community.

"'Yan ang sinasabi ng mga katutubo diyan, 'yan daw ay mga nananakot sa kanila. Naka-bonnet pa daw nung pumunta sa kanila, ibig sabihin baka mga kakilala nila, o baka mga kasama nila, kaya 'di nagpapakilala," Detoyato said.

The AFP is still investigating how the situation devolved into violence, according to Detoyato. —Jessica Bartolome/KBK, GM ANews