We welcome and support the initiative of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the incident. An impartial, objective assessment of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of at least three lumad leaders from Surigao del Sur should properly uncover accountabilities and from there let charges be filed with the Department of Justice (DOJ) against those culpable for the deaths.
The strategic imperative however is for the closer scrutiny of development initiatives as they relate and impinge on the rights of indigenous peoples to assert their right to self-determination.
Unbridled development devoid of thorough and inscrutable regulations put indigenous peoples' communities at the crossroads of human rights violations, whether these be committed by state or non-state actors.
It is high time to ensure that the principle of free and prior informed consent is genuinely guaranteed as intended under the IPRA. It is also worth to prioritize the enactment of laws such as the Alternative Minerals Management Bill, and the revocation of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo GMA-era EO 546 s.2006 which paved the way for the continued presence of private armed groups in communities.
Private armed groups have no place in the broader struggle for peace and development in Mindanao. They are the most barbaric expressions of warlordism. They are mere weapons for vested interests to continue to hold back Mindanao from realizing its full potential.
In the immediate, the pullout of military forces can help address the restlessness among citizens. Their continued presence in the area can only reinforce distrust and resentment, and will not enable government to deploy the available mechanisms to seek redress for the communities' grievances.
At the same time, confidence building measures leading to concrete services need to be introduced and sustained to make sure that communities are also not exploited by non-state groups seeking to use their plight for their own political and ideological ends.
All democratic stakeholders should therefore converge in efforts and galvanize around IP communities as zones of peace, devoid of interference from both state and non-state actors equally liable for their continued misery. We must continuously assert peace as the ultimate means by which we can ensure that no more lumads, nor Mindanaoans as a whole, further fall prey to the clutches of violence in the region.