When Indigenous Peoples (IP) leader Christine Banugan gave her testimony about the atrocities of communist terrorist organizations in insurgency-ridden Philippines, at the United Nations Headquarters in New Your City, USA on July 1, 2019, she started with a story about the murder of her father and other family members.
COURAGE. Tribal leaders walk towards the gate of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on Monday (July 1, 2019). They engaged representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the challenges their communities are facing due to attacks by the CPP-NPA-NDFP. (Photo by Mac Villarino/PCOO)
Banugan said members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) broke into their house in December 2016, brutally killing his father with 13 gunshot wounds, together with his uncle, and other family members, who were all on the front line in advocating IP rights and culture.
“They destroyed our development, our education, and our peaceful cultural living was destroyed. And that was our life since then,” Banugan, whose father was a former chieftain of the Mandaya tribe in Davao Oriental, told UN human rights officers.
“The reason why my community allowed me to come here in the United States is really to articulate their voice in the community,” Banugan, who now heads their tribe, said.
Banugan and seven other tribal leaders, who fear facing death threats when they return back home for baring the atrocities of the CPP-NPA-NDFP, appealed to UN officers to launch an investigation into the attacks and urged them to help end the escalating violence fueled by the communist armed conflict in the country.
UN VISIT. Tribal leaders pose with Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII) Secretariat officer-in-charge Rosemary Lane (6th from left) and Presidential Communications Operations Office Undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy (5th from right), during a meeting at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on Monday (July 1, 2019). They are calling on the UN to help end the communist armed conflict in the Philippines. (Photo by Mac Villarino/PCOO)
After hearing their stories, representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) said they are “fully committed” to look into the plea of the tribal leaders.
Rosemary Lane, officer-in-charge of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII) Secretariat, urged the tribal chieftains to “participate in the UN forum” on IPs.
“There is a process, it’s quite open. The forum is an open platform. Nobody is excluded as long you’re a legitimate IP organization, you are welcome,” she said, referring to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the UN’s central coordinating committee for matters relating to the issues and rights of indigenous peoples across the world.
Meanwhile, Denise Hauser, human rights officer of the UN OHCHR, said her agency is “open to receive your complaints, your case, and all evidence.”
“All information you have regarding your case is a great concern and our office is fully committed to closely look into it through the existing mechanisms that we have,” she said.
‘Breaking the silence’
Datu Jacob Lanes, a member of the Mandaya Tribe from Davao City, said the IP leaders’ visit to the UN office serves as a “way for the truth to be out there.”
However, more than sharing the stories of violence being sowed by communist terrorists into their ancestral domains, Lanes said their visit is a statement of courage.
“Actually yung takot, matagal na yun. Kaya nga ang sinasabi nila ngayon, bakit ngayon lang kayo umiikot? Kaya malaking challenge yung sinasabi naming ‘breaking the silence’ (Actually fear is something that has been in us for a long time. That’s why they tell us, why are you going around just now? When we say, ‘breaking the silence’, it’s a huge challenge for us),” he said.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy, for her part, said government efforts to end the communist armed conflict in the country are being sustained to promote peace in IP communities.
“What I’m learning from here is that we should step up, the government should step up because for the longest time, we don’t show up, and now the CPP-NPA has gone stronger and they know the system and they have been misrepresenting our government,” she said.
“What matters at this point is for us to step up and to tell our story and to give documents because we have a lot of documentary evidence against the CPP-NPA and their legal fronts that have entered North America,” she added.
The tribal leaders are traveling across the United States to call on the US government, the United Nations, and various international organizations to help get rid of the CPP-NPA-NDFP.
President Rodrigo Duterte has created a national task force to work out a mechanism to help end the decades-old communist insurgency.
Contained in Executive Order No. 70, Duterte’s creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) seeks to institutionalize a “whole-of-nation approach” in attaining an inclusive and sustainable peace.
The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. (Rom Dulfo, PNA)