CHR asks for P15M budget to help lumads caught in conflict

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Protesters cry out for an end to Lumad killings.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) appealed for a budget of P15 million for its Witness Protection Program (WPP) so it can better help lumads caught in conflict in Mindanao.

CHR Chairperson Jose Luis Martin Gascon said the agency currently has eight people under their witness protection program, with two related to the lumads.

The current budget of the WPP is P500,000, which Gascon said is too small.

The CHR chief explained that the agency cannot afford a safe house with the current budget and asked the Justice department to provide one in the meantime, as threats are being made against witnesses and CHR officials.

"We need to step up our protection services because threats are being made on witnesses and in fact also CHR personnel in Mindanao."

Complex issue of lumads

According to the CHR, the problem that the lumads are facing is a complex one involving land disputes, mining interests, inter-tribal conflicts, and insurgency.

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The source of conflict differs from area to area across Northern and Eastern Mindanao.

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It added that extrajudicial killings are reported on a weekly basis.

"While the overall cases have dwindled, the fact that there are sharp increases in enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings, [and] torture is a matter of concern," Gascon said.

Last September 1, two Lumad leaders and a tribal school director were allegedly killed by paramilitary group Magahat Bagani in the town of Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

In addition to the request to increase the WPP budget, the CHR is also asked for a capital outlay of P52.27 million for the rehabilitation of its office, as they are currently housed in a condemned building.

Gascon also recommended a rise in its confidential fund from P1 million to P5 million.

CNN Philippines' Anna Estanislao contributed to this report.