From InterAksyon (Jul 18): Head of house IP panel blasted for 'insulting' lumad says refugees held in 'concentration camp'
North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco during the 'dialogue' with Ata-Manobo refugees at a church compound in Davao City. (photo by Kilab Multimedia)
Lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc and religious leaders blasted the chairwoman of the House of Representatives’ committee on national cultural communities for “insulting” displaced Ata-Manobo who have sought refuge from militarization at a church compound in Davao City this week.
Sought for her side, Catamco, a Bagobo-Manobo, stood her ground and alleged the lumad are being held under duress at the UCCP compound, which she likened to a “concentration camp” where the indigenous people “are being treated inhumanely.”
In audio files uploaded to the Internet, North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco is heard speaking in an angry voice during what was supposed to be a dialogue with the lumad at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran compound.
In one of the files, she raises her voice when a man says they would rather die in the evacuation center than return to their militarized communities.
“Okay, you want to die here? Okay, you want to die here? He said that. You want to die? Alright, those who want to die here, raise your hands. Raise your hands! You want this? Really?” she said.
Saying she only wanted to help solve the lumad’s problems, she went on to say she “cannot understand seeing the children here stinking (baho) like this …”
She also insinuates that the lumad are being held against their will and said if they were genuine evacuees, they should be staying with the Department of Social Welfare and Development, not the church compound.
In another file, she dismisses a man’s assertion that they were seeking a dialogue, saying many dialogues had been held in the past “and yet you keep returning here.”
She also justified the continued military presence in hinterland communities, saying it was needed to protect heavy equipment from being burned by rebels and asking if the lumad were willing to take on the responsibility of preventing this.
In comments sent to InterAksyon about the incident, Catamco said: "Hindi ito healthy at lalong hindi makatao. Imagine, pinagsiksikan sila sa makeshift tents, walang maayos na tulugan, makain at palikuran; and worst, ayaw silang pauwiin at naka-kandado ang gate na walang basta-basta makapasok (This is not healthy and more than that, inhuman. Imagine, they are crammed into makeshift tents, with no proper beds, food or toilets; and worst, they are prevented from returning home and the gates locked to prevent anyone from entering). You visit them and see for yourself."
Catamco had been invited, together with party-list Representatives Luz Ilagan of Gabriela, Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna and Terry Ridon of Kabataan, by the Save our Schools Network to join a fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations allegedly committed by the military and paramilitary groups against the lumad in Southern Mindanao.
On July 13, the mission went to Cateel, Davao Oriental and visited a lumad school. The following day the lawmakers met with the evacuees and their datu and other leaders at the UCCP Haran compound, where the Ata-Manobo aired their complaints, including what they said were vilification campaigns mounted by the military and milities against them, volunteer teachers and groups who support them.
At the July 14 meeting, said the Makabayan lawmakers, Catamco suggested they meet again the next day so she could invite officials of the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples.
However, aside from NCIP representatives, Catamco also took with her military officers and other government agencies and told the evacuees to return home, the activist lawmakers said.
They said Catamco humiliated the evacuees when she told them, “Panguli na ‘mo kay baho na kayo ‘mo diri. (You should go home because you are already stinking here).”
"She tried to entice the evacuees to go home by telling them packed lunch and buses had been prepared for them," they added.
The Makabayan lawmakers also accused Catamco of disrespecting Zarate when she cut him off, saying, "I'm not talking to you," when he tried to raise a point during their dialogue. This prompted Zarate to walk out.
"The so-called dialogue turned into a mockery. Ultimately it failed to address the issues of militarization being raised by the evacuees. Her words and deeds were no different in effect from what the military have been inflicting on the lumad: threats, intimidation, harassment, and ridicule," the Makabayan bloc said.
In a separate statement, the UCCP-Southeast Mindanao Jurisdictional Area said it felt "insulted by the fact that she disrespected the sanctuary by misleading us of her true intentions of dragging the issue beyond humanitarian aspect."
The “UCCP Peace Sanctuary is a prophetic witness and humanitarian effort of the church for the lost, the last and the least of our people. It is a place purposely created to accommodate individuals or communities that were deprived, neglected, exploited, harassed, and suppressed with their rights to peace, respect and free as a community,” Bishop Hamuel Tequis of UCCP SEMJA said in the statement.
“Forcing the lumad to go back to their villages would not help in addressing the main issues or their demands. Certain government officials and agencies are just making the situation worse, the fact that they are public servant they should act as genuine servants to the people," he added.