Mindanao tribes want troops, rebels out of their communities

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Jong Monzon, a member of the Mandaya tribe of Davao Oriental. (Photo: CNN Philippines)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Around 700 indigenous people from Mindanao have been camped out at the University of Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City for almost a week.

They want to send a message to the government: Withdraw military troops from their ancestral domain.

In an interview with CNN Philippines on Friday (October 20), Jong Monzon, a member of the Mandaya tribe of Davao Oriental, said in Filipino: "When the soldiers arrived, our community was disturbed. Our leaders were killed right in front of us."

The military, Monzon said, accused them of being either members or sympathizers of the communist New People's Army (NPA) rebels.

He said the rebels had been staying in their area, but they did not meddle in their affairs.

"We just want to live in peace without any disturbance, so that like those in the cities we could study," he said. "We hope that we would be given the chance to study so that we won't remain ignorant."

Lumad Mindanao, a group of lumad — that is, native — leaders, had a different take on the issue.

Datu Jimid Mansayagan of the Aromanin Manobo tribe of North Cotabato said the conflict rose out of the natural resources in their land.

He said indigenous peoples were being displaced and taken advantage of by various groups such as the military, the NPA, mining companies, and local politicians for their own agenda.

He asked that they be left alone.

The lumad leader saids they had often been caught in the crossfire.

Mansayagan added they would also want the NPA out of their lands to end clashes with the military.

According to Human Rights Watch, an international groups, military and paramilitary groups have committed human rights violations against indigenous people in Mindanao.

On the other hand, it also confirms that some members of indigenous tribes have joined NPA activities because of government neglect to provide for their needs.

Carlos Conde of the Human Rights Watch said the government must ensure that basic services must reach area if it would want to appease the indigenous peoples.