A group of international organizations working with rural communities decried the “de-facto media blackout” on the indiscriminate rural bombings happening in the Philippines and India. The CSOs also requested that the United Nations conduct an independent investigation into these “cover-up atrocities” and “make good” on its Political Declaration against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas signed in Dublin last year.
A preliminary investigation by the groups People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), and Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) revealed huge gaps between bombing reports from communities and mainstream media reports on said incidents.
“Whether it’s the years-long culture of impunity against journalists in these countries or unacknowledged cover-ups, it is clear that there’s a de facto media blackout on reporting and investigations on these rural bombings,” Razan Zuayter, PCFS co-chair, said.
Earlier this week, farmers and indigenous groups from North Luzon, Philippines — Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, and Cordillera regions — launched a series of forums and press conferences. The local organizations trooped to the country’s capital to bring attention to the indiscriminate bombings in the municipalities of Baggao, and Gawaan, in the last 30 days. The campaign group Defend the North also met with officials from the Philippine Human Rights Commission and some lawmakers.
“This year alone saw two sustained bombings in the northern Philippines and two more in eastern India, yet it’s not covered by the press and no investigation is pursued. What’s worse is that any attempt from CSOs and rights groups in the last two years to investigate was met with further attacks, harassment, and threats from state forces,” says Azra Sayeed, APRN chairperson.
The recent fact-finding mission in Telangana and Chhattisgarh was barred by the military last February from accessing the previously shelled Bijapur and Sukma villages.
Combat drones, red-tagging facilitates land grabs
The groups PCFS, IPMSDL, and APRN have also voiced concerns about the long-term effects of the “escalating bombings” and the use of military drones. These unmanned aerial vehicles are used to do surveillance on rural villages and have become threats to people’s rights to till their land and live in safety and with dignity.
Reports from the Telangana-Chhattisgarh border found that the Modi government committed “acts of genocide” via armed drone strikes on January 11, 2023, that killed at least two people. Grassroots and human rights alliances asserted that the bombings and subsequent chopper strafing in communities were meant to displace Adivasis in service of mining giants’ interests.
In the Philippines, interviews with indigenous peoples groups involved in the Defend the North campaign revealed that similar patterns of harassment were employed against fact-finding missions investigating the bombings in Gonzaga, Cagayan in 2022. In almost all cases, rural areas targeted by these airstrikes are agricultural lands, ancestral forests, or areas with communities that are threatened by mining, logging, or tourism businesses.
The international groups also claim that terror-tagging is being used in both countries to target those probing these indiscriminate bombings. The red-tagging in the Philippines, or Naxal-branding in India, happens when government forces accuse activists and rural communities of being armed rebels, justifying attacks and muddying the waters by invoking the auspices of the ongoing civil war.
“More often than not, indigenous peoples are those most affected by these explosions, whether it’s the Agta of the Cordillera peoples in the Northern Philippines, Lumad and Moro in the South, or the Adivasis of eastern India, Manipur, and Nagaland,” says Zuayter.
“It is quite appalling that the Philippine delegation even signed the Political Declaration against the use of explosives in populated areas last November, all while continuing to bomb indigenous communities in Kalinga and elsewhere.” Razan Zuayter, PCFS co-chair, said.
In November last year, the Philippines was among the 80 member countries that signed the landmark UN Political Declaration to protect civilians against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas or more commonly known as the EWIPA Political Declaration.
“With the US bankrolling rising militarism in the Asia Pacific and escalating war rhetoric on the India-China border, there’s an imminent danger that these human and people’s rights violations will be swept under the rug, and pushed further back out of the limelight,” Sayeed ends.#