By Joe Torres
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned that he will place tribal people in “hamlets” to keep them from being influenced by communist rebels.
In a speech on Dec. 18, the president said he would implement the policy before the year’s end “so that [his critics] won’t invent stories.”
“I will hamlet them. Why? Because if they remain scattered, they are really in danger,” said Duterte during a summit of village leaders in the southern region of Mindanao.
“I cannot get their loyalty if they are scattered because they are afraid to be far from each other,” said the president. He said the hamlets would be declared tribal territories that will be guarded by the tribal people themselves, although soldiers and policemen would be asked to secure the areas.
The president said the plan would be implemented “throughout the Philippines.”
Duterte’s plan is reminiscent of the United States’ Strategic Hamlet Program during the Vietnam War that aimed at combatting the communists’ influence over the rural population. In the Philippines “hamletting” was among the human rights violations committed by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s.
Hamletting involves putting villagers in one place in an attempt to prevent them from having contact with insurgents. Duterte earlier announced that he would move tribal communities to “temporary shelters” as part of his counterinsurgency plan in Mindanao.
“Now I will hamlet them,” he said on Dec. 16. “You natives won’t be able to say that you’re being imprisoned. But I will make a secure place for you that will be your territory in the meantime,” he added.
“In the background of these attacks [on tribal communities] are big corporations and so-called development projects that are encroaching ancestral territories,” said Malayao.
Duterte said in his speech that communists have always tried to control the tribes and arm them, which is why reviving the peace negotiations with the rebels would be “futile.”
Peace talks between the government and the communist rebels collapsed in 2017 after Duterte ordered the terminations of negotiations following rebel attacks on military camps.