On 1 September 2015, human rights defender and director of an education initiative for the Lumad indigenous people, Mr Emerito Samarca, was killed, allegedly by members of a paramilitary group. He was found dead in one of the classrooms in the school compound in Han-ayan, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
Emerito Samarca was the director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), a self-initiated school for the Lumad indigenous people. The school provides secondary education to members of the indigenous community, supporting the development of their communities and raising awareness of indigenous people. Emerito Samarca had worked for ALCADEV since it was founded in 2004 and became executive director in 2012.
In the early morning of 1 September 2015, the body of the human rights defender, who was reportedly stabbed to death, was discovered inside one of the classrooms of the school. He was allegedly killed by a paramilitary group known as the Magahat militia which, the night prior to the killing, had ordered the rest of the staff members, teachers and students to leave the Han-ayan area and to go to Kilometre16 village, which is three kilometres from Han-ayan.
Two days prior to the killing of Emerito Samarca, members of the state Magahat/Bagani Force and of the 36th Infantry Battalion and Special Forces Regiment had occupied and carried out a patrol of the area, including within the ALCADEV school compound, the Han-ayan village and another school run by the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS). Subsequently, the Magahat militia, which is reportedly backed by state forces, warned staff and students at the school, as well as community members, that if they did not leave the area within two days, they would massacre the entire community.
On 31 August, the majority of the ALCADEV staff, as well as residents of Han-ayan, left the village out of fear for their safety and went to Kilometre 16 village. Later that night, members of the Magahat militia raided the houses in Kilometre 16 village, forcing the residents to go to a local community centre. During the raid, members of the paramilitary confiscated all cellphones and cameras belonging to Han-ayan residents and ALCADEV staff.
Following this raid, at approximately 4 am on 1 September 2015, around the time it is believed Emerito Samarca was killed, many of those who had fled Han-yan witnessed the killing of Mr Dionel Campos, chairman of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang Sa Sumusunod (MAPASU), an organisation campaigning against large-scale mining in Surigao del Sur and representing the indigenous people. His cousin Mr Bello Sinzo was also killed. Members of the Magahat militia executed them in front of hundreds of residents in Kilometre 16 village, before leaving the scene.
The situation which defenders of indigenous rights face in the Philippines continues to deteriorate, particularly in the Mindanao region. On 18 August 2015, army troopers belonging to the 1st Special Forces battalion killed five members of the Manobo Farmers Association, a local organisation of Lumad peasants in the area.
I strongly condemn the killing of Emerito Samarca and other members of the Lumad indigenous community. I believe that Emerito Samarca was specifically targeted on account of his peaceful work in defence of indigenous rights.
I urge the authorities in the Philippines to:
1. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into killing of Emerito Samarca, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of ALCADEV staff members, students and community residents;
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in the Philippines are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.