On June 15, 2021 in sitio Panukmoan located in Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur on the the north eastern part of the island of Mindanao, three Lumad were killed when the 3rd Special Forces Battalion Philippine Army indiscriminately fired on a group of six who were harvesting abaca fibers. Those killed were Willy Rodriguez, Lenie Rivas and 12 year-old Angel Rivas.
Initial reports from the Philippine Army indicated that the farmers fired back against the army and detonated a bomb as justification for the killing. When the bodies were taken to army headquarters in St Christine, they were further tagged by the 4th infantry battalion as members of the New People’s Army.
However, members of the community who knew the three victims denounced these claims; directing attention to the fact that soldiers have been illegally encamping in the community, and that those who went to harvest abaca that day had sought permission from the Armed Forces to go harvest. Furthermore, the community emphasized that Rodriguez and Lenie were members of the Lumad organization Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), and Angel was a Grade 6 student of the Lumad school Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS).
The victims of the killing were not rebel soldiers or carrying any weapons, they were members of the community and were simply harvesting abaca to provide for their community. Community reports disprove the claims the military used to justify the killings of Rodriguez, Lenie and Angel. The State Forces claim that the farmers were “resisting them” as use to justify the killings is an overused excuse used by members of the Philippine Army since President Duterte’s bloody reign began in 2016.
For example, in almost all of the PNP’s anti-illegal drugs operations which, more often than not, had resulted in deaths of thousands of drug suspects, police claimed the suspects chose to resist arrest and shoot it out with law enforcers during a sting operation or when arrest and search warrants were served.
Even the claim that these indigenous people’s murder could be justified because they are members of the NPA is a tired excuse used by Duterte’s cronies to justify the murder of activists and those who are actively fighting for their own self-determination. In 2021 alone, over a dozen activists, human rights defenders, women, and peace negotiators have been killed under the leadership of Duterte. These killings have been funded by US military aid and are made possible by US military training through the Visiting Forces Agreement.
The International Women’s Alliance condemns in the strongest terms the killing of Willy Rodriguez, Lenie Rivas and 12 year-old Angel Rivas; especially given reports that the victims were brutalized and that there was evidence that Lenie and Angel were raped by soldiers before they were killed. Violence against women by the military in the Philippines has been supported by Durterte as a tactic for ending the years long civil war in the Philippines. In 2018, Duterte ordered the military to “ “shoot female rebels in the vagina.”
According to a statement by IWA member Gabriela Philippines, “Those words have since transformed into the reality for Filipino women, New People’s Army combatants and civilians alike. The brutality that the military dealt upon the female Lumad victims in the Lianga massacre, especially 6th-grade student Angel Rivas, is a stark testament to this macabre reality,”
Gabriela said the military must be held to account for what it described as “countless crimes against the Filipino people, especially towards Lumad women and the women of other indigenous peoples in the Philippines.” They also added that it is time to put an end to what they call as “macho-feudal leadership of Duterte” which the group said has enabled and empowered men in uniform to rape, pillage, and murder Filipinos with impunity.
The more recent massacre in Lianga is not an isolated incident, and IWA calls on our global community to amplify the call to hold the Duterte government accountable for its crimes against the people through the support of US Imperialism and militarism.
IWA calls on all women to oppose US Imperialism and to call for the rights of women to be upheld during times of military operation. We demand an end to US military aid which funds the murder and rape of our communities; not just in the Philippines but around the world.
IWA calls on all our member organizations, rights defenders, activists and the international community to lend their voice and call for justice for Angel, Willy, Lenie and all the victims before another life is lost. We demand that women’s lives be valued over corporate greed and capitalist plunder, especially where indigenous women and their families face increased brutality and displacement at the hands of the state.