Paquibato leaders decry continued harassment of residents despite military’s assurance
DAVAO CITY – The disbandment of paramilitary units and the withdrawal of the firearms issued to them by the Philippine Army are some of the recommendations put forward in a City Council hearing last week that looked into the atrocities allegedly perpetrated by the dreaded Alamara in Paquibato District, this city.
An 8 p.m. curfew in the whole of Paquibato was also suggested to the military to distinguish residents from the bandits who are said to be terrorizing residents in the hinterland area.
These suggestions came up during the investigation launched this week by the City Council committees on civil, political and human rights, and peace and public safety.
The investigation was prompted by the massive evacuation in recent weeks of Paquibato residents, which were in turn triggered by several unsolved murders in the area and the harassments allegedly by the Alamara, a group of armed Lumads allegedly created and controlled by the military to assist in its counter-insurgency operations in Paquibato.
But even while the investigation was going on, another murder was reported Monday, bringing to six the number of unsolved killings in the district. The latest victim was Joseph Saradpan, 30, whose corpse, which bore stab wounds, was found dumped by the roadside in Panulawan, in Malabog, Sunday night.
The panel investigating the atrocities was composed of councilors Bonifacio Militar, Nenita Orcullo and Jimmy Dureza. Also present were lawyer Emiliano Cajes of the Commission on Human Rights and Major Jose Maria Cuerpo, chief of the 5th Civil Relations Group of the Philippine Army and Colonel Rolando Bautista of the Task Force Davao. Officials from Paquibato were also present.
Antonio Fernandez, a councilor of Mapula, told the committees that his constituents had been terrorized by armed men carrying high-powered firearms, knocking on houses in the dead of night. This, he said, forced many to evacuate their village.
Fernandez said a red cloth was tied at the nozzle of the firearms the gunmen carried. Asked by Dureza if they could be New People’s Army guerrillas, Fernandez replied that NPA members do not usually do that.
Fernandez said the military, in a recent dialogue with Paquibato residents, had given the assurance that these midnight visits by armed men would not happen again. But as soon as the residents returned to their homes from the evacuation centers, the harassment resumed. “When we came back, the knocking returned,” he told the committees.
Fernandez appealed to the military to stop going over the fences of people’s houses in conducting inspections in the area.
An official from Lumiad village, Gemma Obienda, narrated to the committees how the Alamra bandits conduct themselves. “They number around 18. There are children. They cook in the houses of the residents, and take things away with them, even shoes and the animals,” she said.
One of these men, Obienda said, had introduced himself once as “Kumander Dante” and that he was also known as “Agila” who claimed to be bagani, or Lumad warrior. Early this month, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte announced a bounty for the capture of “Kumander Dante.”
Alexander Cardiente, village chief of Paquibato, revealed that in a recent dialogue among the residents and the military last Saturday in Paquibato, a certain “Kumander Dagsil” was present. Dagsil, Cardiente said, denied that he was an Alamara member but said he was a bagani.
Another village leader, Custodio Varona Sr. of Fatima, said, however, that some groups were probably just out to avenge the killing by the NPA of a certain Manuel Butig.
But Orcullo pointed out that since the Lumads were being armed, the atrocities in the area increased. She said the situation only breeds more problem as the military arms the Lumads to go after the NPA, without the necessary trainings and proper orientation and are, thus, likely to commit abuses.
Orcullo asked military officials present during the hearing if recalling the firearms they had issued to their Lumad paramilitary elements could ease the tension in the area. Bautista of the Task Force Davao replied that it was a matter to be decided by the military chain of command. “It is going to be a political decision,” he said. “We are following the chain of command, regardless of requests by local government authorities.”
Dureza, in an interview, said they could not yet identify the bandits for lack of evidence. “We do not want to jump to conclusions because we lack the necessary fact to reach a decision. We reserve our judgment for the mean time until such time we can get evidence pinpointing to the group as perpetrators,” he said.
“If we find out if they (the Alamara) are the ones harassing, we will ask authorities to withdraw firearms issued to these Lumads and let the soldiers conduct their own patrols,” Dureza said.
He said he believed that there are more victims who are just afraid to come out.
Paquibato is the largest district in Davao City in terms of land area. The military is said to have saturated the area of troops to go after the NPA.
Another committee hearing has been scheduled on April 4 in Paquibato. The committees planned to invite Datu Dagsil, Datu Ruben Labawan of Atadi and Datu Joel Unad of the Supreme Tribal Council as well as National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) director Roque Agton. Labawan and Unad are reportedly working closely with the military in using the Lumads against the NPA. Davao Today Reposted by