Caitlin Mayo is a freshman nursing major.
The genocide of the Lumad people of Mindanao (the second largest island in the Philippines) could be considered one of the largest human rights violations of this age, yet it is shrouded in silence. Caught in the crossfire between the communist insurgency and the Philippine government’s armed forces, the peaceful indigenous people of the southern Philippines live in fear as their land and their source of livelihood is claimed by these outside forces. The Lumad have the right to defend their claims to their ancestral lands, through the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997. However, with direct attacks, murders, and harassment from the communist insurgency and the Philippine government, many have been displaced from their lands and face discrimination and further violence.
Any attempts to provide education and leadership to the Lumad have been met with violence. In September of 2015, a Lumad school director and two community leaders were tortured and murdered in Lianga, Surigao del Sur in the southern Philippines. In January, Filipino news source ABS-CBN News released a brief report that a 15-year-old student was shot by a suspected member of the Alamara paramilitary group on his way home from school in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
Despite the United Nation’s interest in addressing the issue, such atrocities have not received much media coverage, especially not from the mainstream Filipino media. The news coverage on the situation in Mindanao has not been very extensive, with most of the latest articles on the conflict dating to January of this year. Likewise, the international media coverage of the Lumad killings has been rather limited, with the only major American outlet that had covered the killings recently being Time magazine in September of last year. However, with a presidential race also underway in the Philippines, the issue should be held under greater scrutiny.
The lack of coverage in the Philippines itself could be explained by the fact that, according to CNN, the number of journalist killings under the current administration in the Philippines is at its highest since 1986. The country is now the third most dangerous country to report from, behind Iraq and Syria. One of the deadliest attacks on journalists occurred in 2009 when gunmen killed 32 journalists in the southern Philippines for investigating political candidates. Journalists have risked their lives to report on these developments, facing danger from the act of investigating itself and opposition from power.
I feel very fortunate to be able to freely access media, in spite of all its biases and fallacies, and form more accurate interpretations of the events that are transpiring across the globe. I feel especially fortunate to live in a country where I am able to freely express my opinion to the public without the fear of being harmed in the process. I commend journalists who are able to brave on and inform the public— the pursuit of knowledge is not the easiest, nor the safest pursuit.
With the lack of media coverage on such an issue, the next best way to address the situation is to raise awareness. The fight against Boko Haram reached national attention as Michelle Obama began to promote #BringBackOurGirls. Though giving likes did not directly help the cause, sharing the issue in such a way helped bring it to international consciousness. I commend Kasamahan for making such a bold effort to raise awareness of the Lumad killings through their annual Barrio Fiesta with a skit and dance suite. Awareness is the first step in taking a stand against this plight. Once the public is aware and demands to be informed, that is a call that simply cannot be ignored.
Photo courtesy of Keith Bacongco/Flickr