Tribesmen on Tuesday trooped to the local National Commission for the Indigenous People and the Commission on Human Rights and demanded the withdrawal of government troops from their villages in Davao del Norte's Talaingod town where the military launched a massive operations against communist insurgents.
The natives said the military campaign against the New People's Army has displaced more than a thousand people and many of them, including children, have sought refuge at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Davao City.
They accused the military of human rights violations and said troops have tagged indigenous tribes as being members or supporters of the NPA, especially those who are oppose to the war.
"We are the targets of the military. It is not true that we are caught in between the fighting of the AFP and NPA. When the military bombed our communities and occupied them, did they find NPAs? No. Because the military's real targets are us," Datu Doloman Dawsay, one of the tribal leaders and chairman of the indigenous group Salugpongan 'Ta Tanu Ig Kanugon, said in a statement sent to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.
Dawsay said both the NCIP and the CHR failed to protect the rights and welfare of the indigenous tribes in Talaingod. "Our people have been defending our ancestral land for as long as I can remember. We were able to drive away the loggers twenty years ago, but now it is the military that is driving us from our homes. We will not go back to our communities unless the soldiers leave," he said.
The Eastern Mindanao Command has strongly denied the accusations. "Those are not true and our mission here is to protect innocent civilians from the clutches of communism and atrocities of the NPA," Capt. Alberto Caber, an spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner.
The NPA has been fighting for decades for the establishment of a separate communist state in the country.