Terror operations by soldiers and paramilitary men set off a new wave of evacuation of peasant and Lumad communities in Surigao del Sur province.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Suspected soldiers and members of a paramilitary group killed two peasants, closed a community school and triggered the evacuation of hundreds of families in San Miguel town in Surigao del Sur province.
In the past three weeks, a total of 420 families have left the two villages of Siagao and Bolhoon in the municipality of San Miguel, for fear of soldiers of the Philippine Army’s 36th Infantry Battalion and members of the tribal paramilitary group Bagani.
On Aug. 28, at past 6 p.m., peasant brothers Crisanto, 39, and Ely “Loloy” Tabugol, 34, of Siagao village were shot dead by “armed men with long firearms” suspected to be paramilitary men, said Karapatan-Caraga in its factsheet. The next day, Aug. 29, all 332 families of the village left because the armed men threatened that “they will be massacred.”
In Bolhoon village, on Aug. 9, all 45 families of Purok 16, sitio Nalindog, left their homes, hours after being roused from their sleep and gathered for interrogation by another group of paramilitary men. The Bolhoon evacuees had risen to 81 families, as of writing.
The evacuation halted classes in the Nalindog Tribal Community School, affecting 76 students from Grades 1 to 5.
A “peace dialogue” held on Aug. 18 by Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel came to naught as the local government tried to convince the evacuees to return home, but gave no assurance about their safety.
The Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (Karapatan-Caraga) urgently called for the dismantling of paramilitary groups, which they said should be held accountable, along with soldiers who were implicated in the killings, disappearances, torture and harassment of communities.
The evacuees from the two villages are staying in two evacuation sites: at the Tina Elementary School in Tina village, and at the San Miguel municipal gym.
Killed in their own home
According to the Karapatan-Caraga factsheet, in the morning before the Tabugol brothers were killed on Aug. 29, at around 9 a.m., residents had been on alert after seeing a composite unit of 30 men composed of known members of the Hasmin group of the Bagani Force and uniformed soldiers of the 36th IB, in the banana orchards and outskirts of Siagao.
At around 6 p.m., Loloy had just returned to the village after bringing his sister and mother to San Miguel town proper, as advised by his elder brother Crisanto, to keep them safe. As soon as he got to his house at around 7 p.m., he was confronted by armed men, who shot him in the foot. Witnesses heard Loloy plead for his life, saying, “Please sir, we know nothing and did nothing wrong, we are only civilians.” The armed men shot him in the forehead and kept firing. He sustained nine gunshot wounds.
Witnesses said Crisanto tried to run but was shot three times and died on the spot.
On Aug. 30, San Miguel Mayor Alvaro Elizalde visited the evacuees, but failed to convince them to board the two dump trucks that were supposed to transport them home.
“Despite the military’s presence, they were unable to stop the killing and no arrests were made after the incident, despite reassurance from the mayor that the threat has been lifted,” Karapatan-Caraga said.
‘Do you want to eat bullets?’
In the early morning of Aug. 9, a dozen armed paramilitary men of the Magahat/Bagani led by Marcos Bocales and Calpit Egua roused the residents of the whole sitio (subvillage) of Nalindog and forced them out of their homes. The residents described the men as “carrying M16 rifles and backpacks, and in military uniform.”
The residents where then gathered at the waiting shed where the men were segregated from the women and children. The armed men alleged that the residents were supporters, if not members of the New People’s Army (NPA), and proceeded to interrogate and harass them.
Angel Vocales, a five-month pregnant resident who was carrying her sick child, tried to assert her right and told the paramilitary men that it was illegal to forcibly enter people’s homes. Karapatan-Caraga said one of the suspects then told her at gun point: “No one can prevent us because this is our law! Do you want a sample to believe us?”
The paramilitary men also confiscated three cellphones of the teachers of the community school, supposedly to prevent them from informing the NPA of the Magahat’s presence.
Regine Tejero, a teacher of the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (Trifpss), tried to refuse to give her cellphone, was threatened by one of the men: ‘Ma’am, do you want to eat bullets?”
The Magahat men asked about officials of Trifpss and of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development Inc. (Alcadev). They then threatened the teachers: “Are you aware, Ma’am, Sir, of our rules? If we catch teachers inside the cottage, we will burn the cottage along with the teacher inside.”
The paramilitary men later distributed leaflets printed with the “Bagani” logo to the residents. They forced brothers Lawrence and Berios Bocales to guide them out of the community. The Bocales brothers were able to return after an hour, with the confiscated cellphones.