Role of foreigners in probe of ‘lumad’ killings questioned
Why are foreigners “meddling” in the country’s internal affairs?
So asked Army and police officers in Mindanao, questioning the “legality and status” of several foreign nationals in an international fact-finding mission (IFFM) probing the Sept. 1 killings in a “lumad” (indigenous people) community in Surigao del Sur.
Leftist organizations blamed the killings on paramilitary groups affiliated with the military, while the Army and police said communist rebels were behind them.
Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao, commander of the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, and Caraga regional police director Chief Supt. Vert Chavez asked the Bureau of Immigration to look into the “legality” and “authority” of the foreigners who joined the civil society group-led probe conducted in Surigao del Sur from Oct. 26 to 30.
In a two-page letter dated Oct. 27 and addressed to Ibrahim Lim of the Bureau of Immigration Surigao del Sur Alien Control Office, Lactao and Chavez requested the bureau and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), “to further conduct a deeper investigation on the legality and status of these foreign nationals… and their authority to perform such a fact-finding mission.”
In a phone interview, Philippine Army spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao said the DFA had confirmed that it had not authorized the foreign nationals to be part of the IFFM.
“These are tourists meddling in internal affairs,” Hao told the Inquirer. “If they are found to have violated our laws, or their tourist visas, we have government agencies to act on it,” he warned.
Hao said the fact-finding mission was “illegal,” and biased in favor of leftist organizations and communist supporters. “It’s only the [New People’s Army] who violates lumad rights,” he said.
In a statement, however, human rights group Karapatan accused the Army of violating “the people’s right to international solidarity” by “harassing foreigners.”
“By showing its claws to the international observers, the Philippine Army is preempting the full disclosure of the abuses and violations they had committed against the lumad,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.
The Army and police officials identified the “meddling” foreigners as Australian Gill Boehringer, Hans Schaap from the Netherlands, Philip Calles and Henry Langston from Britain, and Jonas Straetmans and Dalkiran Metin from Belgium. Calles and Langston were reportedly associated with VICE News, Schaap with the Belgium-based nongovernment organization Solidagro and Boehringer with the International Association of People’s Lawyers.
In their letter to the immigration bureau, the Army and police officers described Schaap and Boehringer as “persons of interest” with “monitored associations” with local communists in the guise of “socioeconomic works.”