School kids are looking forward to the holiday break and gifts. All of us look forward to visits from friends and relatives who are sure to find their way home at this time of the year. For those who cannot make it home, for one reason or the other, there will be Skype, Viber, Chat, and the long-distance phone calls to shorten the distance and make the reunion happen regardless of how it is done.
We are the lucky ones and for that, we are thankful. At this time of the year, more than any other, we need to remember those who cannot be home. And to remember what we can do to bring them home. I am talking about the Lumads, internal refugees in their own land, most especially the refugee children. I am talking about Mary Jane Veloso, a prisoner in an Indonesian jail.
Military incursions in Mindanao continue despite the international uproar about the Lumad evacuations early this year. Just last November 28, more than a hundred villagers of Mangayon, Compostela in Compostela Valley left their homes and sought refuge in Davao City. Karapatan, the human rights watchdog in the Philippines, reported that 33 families and 147students of the alternative learning centre evacuated because of the 66th Infantry Battalion’s encampment and occupation of the village homes.
This year alone, at least 19 incidents of forced evacuation and 7000 victims have been documented in Mindanao, Southern Tagalog and Cagayan Valley. That would be at least one incident every month, a worrisome occurrence since President Aquino and his administration seemingly has refused to do anything about it, even after the evacuees traveled for 30- days during the Manilakbayan to present their demands before Malacanang.
The Tandag Sports Complex in Davao has been home for hundreds of refugees for the last three months. At least a thousand has been under the protection of the United Church of Christ in Haran, Davao City since early this year. Military occupation, continuing counterinsurgency operations prevent the Mindanao refugees from going back to their homes, farms and schools. President Aquino’s favourite phrase at his many SONAs is that the Filipino people are his boss, not the other way around. Well, the people want to go home for Christmas and beyond that but Aquino has remained deaf to the pleas of his boss and blind to the continuing attacks against the Lumads by the military.
And Mary Jane Veloso? When “people power” demanded for the stay in her execution by firing squad by the Indonesian government and succeeded in doing so, it was one of the finest moments of the people’s movement, inside the Philippines and abroad. Mary Jane, migrant worker and a victim of human trafficking, has been behind bars for five years and her case highlights the plight of many Filipino migrant workers.