By D’Jay Lazaro
Religious groups and human rights advocates have gathered today for a two-day conference that aims to call attention to the plight of internal refugees from conflict areas in the country.
Led by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (Karapatan) and the Ecumenical Mission for Peace and Development, the Conference on Internally Displaced Persons is being held to address the alleged militarization of the countryside which they say has led to a the growing number of internal refugees.
“When people are forced to leave their homes they lose their livelihoods because they abandon the land they till.
Children’s schools and places of religious worship are also converted into military camps, thereby violating their right to education and right to freedom of worship,” said Karapatan spokesperson Cristina Palabay at the opening of the conference at the Christ the King seminary in Quezon City.
She said at least 6,500 people have been forced to evacuate since the counter-insurgency drive called Oplan Bayanihan was adopted by the Aquino administration in 2010.
Recent cases include the forced evacuation of 158 families from several villages in Agusan del Norte, according to Karapatan.
The majority of those affected come from the Mamanwa tribe, an indigenous group in Mindanao. Another 300 individuals, meanwhile, are still in an evacuation center in Butuan City.
Among the delegates at the conference is Maricel Salem, a volunteer teacher at the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services in Sarangani province, an alternative school whose operations are often disrupted by threats, harassment and the intimidation of children, their parents and the tribal community.
Sharon Liguyon, widow of tribal leader Jimmy Liguyon, will also address the gathering. Her husband, who was gunned down on March 5 in Bukidnon province, was an active opponent of large-scale mining and militarization in the area.