With local Church of the Apostolic Vicariate of Infanta, we in the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), strongly condemn the murder of one of our advocates for indigenous peoples’ rights in Casiguran, Aurora. Armando Maximino, Chieftain of the Agtas in Sitio Delebsong, Barangay Nipoo was shot dead last May 17.
The suspected perpetrators belonged to the security personnel enlisted by the contesting party that falsely claims ownership of the ancestral domain, even with the reported knowledge of the city mayor, local police, and other officials. Denied burial at his property among departed kin, Armando was instead laid to rest at the site where he took not one but several bullets.
When the Agtas briefly left their vigil at the grave, they returned to find six of their houses burned. Previously, barbed-wire fences were installed around their property by the suspects. When they questioned the move, five members of their tribe were arrested, with some women wounded from the resulting scuffle, but eventually released because there were no grounds to file charges against them.
Despite longstanding and rightful ownership of 49 hectares of the disputed land, supported by official documents and upheld by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Armando, members of his family and community, have endured threats, harassment, and outright violence. Against powerful enemies, the Agtas have retreated out of fear and left the area.
The Church, in its prophetic ministry of promoting social justice, stands in solidarity with the indigenous people’s in their struggle for their rightful claim for the land. We condemn the senseless killing of the Agta Chieftain, Armando Maximino, and the continuing suppression to silence the protest of the community against the impending development aggression.
We enjoin all Filipinos to do the same and demand the impartial and comprehensive investigation of the incident, and its swift and just resolution.
We appeal to President Benigno Aquino III and concerned government agencies to uphold our laws on indigenous peoples’ rights and agrarian reform, in order to safeguard the welfare of our local communities, as well as the fundamental freedoms violated by Armando’s adversaries.
His death exemplifies a recurring cautionary tale, when equal access to resources and justice by vulnerable sectors is continually denied. It underscores the need to address the absence of truly participatory and people-centered development programs, in order to bridge the social, political, and economic divide that bring about conflict in areas like Aurora.
And in fulfillment of our mission we believe that “before today’s forms of exploitation of the poor, the Church cannot remain silent . . . she condemns many injustices which unfortunately, even today are committed to the detriment of the poor” (Pope Jouh Paul II, quoted in PCP II, Acts No. 131).
† BRODERICK S. PABILLO, D.D
Auxiliary Bishop of Manila
Chairman of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Social Action – Justice and Peace
9 May 2011