Lumad victims from Lianga, Surigao del Sur recounted the horrors of the Sept.1 rampage by a paramilitary group, who entered their community along with soldiers.
BY DEE AYROSO
MANILA – It was the stuff of their worst nightmares come true: death in their very own community and destruction of the fruits of their hard work and unity in their mountain home in Han-ayan, Diatagon village, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
Facing a small group of journalists on Sept. 7, six of the victims of the Sept. 1 deadly rampage of paramilitary men recalled the horrors brought upon them by the intruders who came to Han-ayan before the crack of dawn –forced them out of their beds, routed them like cattle, then killed their kin and respected leaders before their very eyes.
Their harrowing experience was reminiscent of scenes from Martial law, and under Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya, when the state tried to “take the water out of the fish,” to flush out New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas.
Some 3,000 Lumads have fled from the communities from Sept. 1, after the gruesome killing of Alcadev executive director Emerito “Sir Emok” Samarca, 54, and Manobo leaders, Dionel “Onel” Campos, 41, chairperson of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), and his uncle (earlier reported as cousin) Datu Juvello “Bello” Sinzo, 69.
“We are here to destroy your community because of its strong support for the NPA. And your school, we will really destroy it to weaken the support for the NPA,” Eufemia Cullamat recalled the words of one of the intruders.
She and the villagers knew them as members of the paramilitary group, Magahat-Bagani, of the Manobo tribe, just like them. But they did not act alone. Soldiers from the 36th and 75th infantry battalions and the Special Forces were the first to arrive on Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. and had lingered up to the time when the paramilitary men attacked.
In the past decade, Lianga had been subjected to intense military operations and attacks, and had triggered massive evacuation, almost every two years. But it was the worst attack yet, with the killing of the leader of a district-wide group, a tribal chieftain, and the head of the alternative school put up by the communities.
A vigil after a celebration
On Aug. 30, the Han-ayan community had just finished its celebration of Alcadev’s 11th founding year.
Cullamat, 55, a resident of Diatagon and Mapasu council member, said the community turned to mourning, as they held a wake for her father Pablito Campos, 89, who died on Aug. 26, and was to be buried on Sept. 1 at the Han-ayan community cemetery.
That night, some 40 soldiers arrived and requested to talk to the tribal chieftain and to her cousin, Dionel Campos, popularly known as “Onel,” the Mapasu chairperson. It was supposedly about the “concreting project” from Diatagon to Andap, Cullamat said. The family said they are still in mourning, and asked the soldiers to postpone their meeting until after their dead is buried.
The soldiers agreed, but did not leave. Instead, they stayed at the waiting shed in front of Alcadev, and in front of the Campos home where the wake was being held.
Cullamat cited a 2011 agreement Mapasu and the datus signed with Col. Henry Robinson of the Philippine Army’s 29th IB, which provides that soldiers will withdraw its “community organizing for peace and development” (COPD) and will not put up a detachment in the area. COPD projects will be implemented by the local government, which will put up a billboard that says such is a project of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
“Onel was confident that the AFP will respect that agreement because it was signed by Col. Robinson, who is with the AFP. But we were wrong,” Cullamat said.
Gary Payac, an Alcadev volunteer teacher, recalled that in the late evening of Aug. 31, some female students complained about being harassed by soldiers that they passed by from the wake on their way to the school dormitory.
“Wow, the students here are so pretty. Can I have one?” the soldiers catcalled the young girls. “Brace yourselves later tonight because an aswang is coming,” the soldiers said. Aswang is a blood-sucking monster in Philippine folklore.
“The students got scared…I told them, ‘Okay, just keep calm,” Payac said.
The aswang in fatigue did come
At around 4 a.m., on Sept. 1, Cullamat recalled a resident came rushing to the wake: “Manang, the military are entering the houses.”
Cullamat then heard loud banging on nearby houses, as the armed men went from house to house forcing people out. Frightened, the people gathered at the wake at the Campos home.
Cullamat described the armed men as wearing complete military uniform, some wore masks, but others were bare-faced, whom they identified as members of the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group.
Two of them came to the wake and told Cullamat and her family to get out. “We couldn’t do anything, because they were armed,” she said.
Inside the Alcadev campus, Payac, his co-teacher Guideon Galicia and three other students were also awakened and forced out of the male dormitory by the armed men wearing battle fatigues who searched through their belongings.
“They took all our bags, even the shoes,” Payac said. They also took cellphones, cameras of the guests, and the laptop of one of the teachers. He said the armed men did the same thing at the female dormitory.
Payac said the armed men even took the money paid by students for ID and for the foundation day t-shirts, and the budget for an income-generating project.
“They cleaned out all the cash, and took the students’ cellphones and money,” he said.
Galicia went to the Alcadev guest house to fetch Samarca, fondly called “Sir Emok.” An armed man tried to stop him, and hit Galicia with a rifle butt.
“Please don’t hurt my staff,” Sir Emok intervened, speaking calmly. The armed man asked who he was, and Sir Emok identified himself as the executive director of the school. As Galicia was allowed to leave, the armed men detained Sir Emok at the second floor of the guest house.
“We were all outside, and we did not know what to expect,” Payac said. “When the paramilitary went out of the Alcadev compound, one of them had a bloody bayonet, and we thought, ‘Sir Emok is gone.’”
Before 6 a.m., the paramilitary led by brothers Bobby and Loloy Tejero had gathered all the people at the basketball court on Kilometer 16, a five-minute walk from Han-ayan. The residents were then divided into groups: men, women and children, and the teachers.
‘We will destroy your community because of its strong support for the NPA’
“I saw Onel was made to sit on a bench in front of the people,” Cullamat said. “One of the armed men said, ‘this is a dialogue, we’re going to talk.’”
The armed men then pointed out to Alcadev staff Belen Itallo, who came out with Onel from the house of Josephine Pagalan, the spokesperson of the Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon sa Caraga (Kasalo Caraga).
The men claimed Itallo was seen with NPAs in the mountains, which Itallo denied. She showed her feet, crippled by polio, , which made walking difficult. She was made to sit on the bench beside Onel.
One of the paramilitary men spoke in a very low voice, but used strong words, Cullamat said. “Stop supporting the NPA. We are here to destroy your community..and your school, we will really destroy it to weaken the support for the NPA,” she recalled the man say.
It was the usual line spoken by soldiers who had long branded the Lumad communities as “NPA areas,” and Alcadev and the elementary schools of the Tribal Filipino Program for Surigao del Sur (Trifpss) as “NPA schools.”
The paramilitary also warned the residents that if they don’t leave within three days, they “would be massacred.”
Another paramilitary singled out Datu Juvello “Bello” Sinzo, a resident of Kiwagan community, in San Isidro village, who was attending the wake of his brother-in-law. “Aren’t you from Kiwagan? Why are you here?”
“Datu, how much revolutionary tax have you pocketed?” another asked. “Datu, can you swear that these people will not turn to the NPA?”
To this, Datu Bello answered: “I do not control their hearts’ desires.” This angered the paramilitary men who grabbed him from the crowd and took him a few meters away, where they beat him up with a piece of wood.
The people were alarmed when the Tejero brothers pointed a gun at Onel’s side and hit him hard in the neck that he fell down. The people began to shout, “Don’t kill him!”
“Drop to the ground!” the armed men shouted, and fired at Onel and around the crowd. Seeing Onel dead, the Magahat and other armed men hurriedly left.
The back of Onel’s head was blown off. The people found Datu Bello was still breathing, but he was also shot and his arms were broken. Cullamat said they wanted to get Bello to the hospital, but all the motorcycles would not work, because the sparkplugs were stolen. Datu Bello died in the village.
The teachers rushed to the Alcadev guest house, but only to find that Sir Emok, too, was already lifeless.
Karapatan said the post-mortem report showed the cause of death was a gunshot wound in the left chest. He also had stab wounds and his throat was slit from ear to ear.
No one else was injured, aside from Itallo, who had temporary hearing loss because of the close range firing.
When they got back to Han-ayan, Cullamat saw her neighbours already putting out the fire in the new building of the Trifpss Han-ayan Tribal School. The Mapasu cooperative store, however, was already reduced to ashes.
“Not even a flint was left, everything burned,” Cullamat said. She said the paramilitary men set fire to the cooperative while they were being gathered at the basketball court.
All this time, Cullamat said, the people had seen the soldiers who were not very far.
“They climbed to higher ground, overlooking the community,” she said. The soldiers in Han-ayan and in Kilometer 16 positioned themselves at vantage points, and in the early morning light, they can clearly see what was happening, she said.
“In our view, the soldiers even watched what the paramilitary did to the community. If we look at the relationship of the AFP and the Magahat, there really is collusion,” Cullamat said.
‘It was like a scene from the movies’
After the Magahat men left, the people got up with only one thought: to leave the community.
Jose Campos, also a Mapasu leader and Cullamat’s brother, said they feared for their lives because the Magahat threatened to return to massacre the community. “We left with only the clothes on our backs, we didn’t even bring our pots,” he said.
Cullamat said her village mates helped to bury her father Pablito in the Han-ayan cemetery.
“When they got back, we were ready. People were all lined up on the road, ready to walk,” she said.
The evacuation might have seemed like a funeral march, with the bodies of Sir Emok, Onel and Datu Bello on a multicab, followed by hundreds of villagers.
“I never thought things like this happen, likes scenes you only watch in movies,” Payac said.
“We began our trek, without breakfast or lunch, the whole 16-kilometer stretch to Diatagon,” he said.
They walked, all of them scared, shocked, sad, hungry, tired – a myriad of emotions, Payac said. “Then, the communities we passed by, they all joined us, scared like us, because three people were killed.”
They left Han-ayan at 9 a.m., and arrived at Diatagon village proper at 3 p.m. By then, the evacuees numbered almost 2,000.
The Diatagon gym, which served as their sanctuary several times, was, however, occupied by soldiers who were playing basketball, indifferent to the people’s tragedy.
“Some of them even blocked us,” Payac said.
The Lumads decided to head to Tandag City, where they evacuated for two months in 2009. Travelling by jeepneys, they arrived at the Provincial sports center in Tandag City at 12 midnight. They were welcomed by the local government’s disaster management council.
“They had bread prepared for us, and it was only then that the people got to eat, breakfast up to supper,” Cullamat said.
Imelda Belandres, 47, a Mapasu council member and Onel’s cousin, said their worst fears had come true with his death.
She said the Lumads have endured worsening attacks: the relentless military operations, the trumped-up charges, and later, the detention of former Mapasu chairperson Jalandoni Campos, and Kasalo-Caraga secretary general Genasque Enriquez – both Han-ayan residents, who were arrested in separate incidents. And, in 2014, the killing of Mapasu leader Henry Alameda in San Isidro village.
Even their recently-deceased father Pablito, in his frail old age, was among those charged with fabricated cases such as murder.
Belandres herself, and other Mapasu leaders were continuously threatened by the paramilitary, relayed through texts or through village mates.
She said Onel stayed strong and did not give in to fear amid the threats. “He was an excellent leader, who could unite the people, even the distant communities,” she said.
Uncertainty, fear, grief
Belandres said Mapasu had long called for the dismantling of paramilitary groups, withdrawal of soldiers from the communities, and justice for Lumad victims. And the call is even stronger now, echoed in cities and even overseas.
Jose Campos said they now face uncertainty with the killings of their leaders and the evacuation. He said they had lived peacefully, and well, with their sustainable farming and good education for their children. But soldiers, and now paramilitary, had relentlessly branded and harassed them as “NPA supporters.”
“The school has been a big help because of its food security program,” he said. “If the soldiers will stay there, where will we go?” he said.
John Michael Pagalan, 15, a third year student in Alcadev worried that less students would go back to school when they return to the community.
“We are so traumatized, and it hurts that we may not be able to finish our studies,” he said. “We only want to graduate so that we can return to our communities and help others,” he said morosely.
Payac said that as in the past evacuations, the teachers will make plans on how to hold classes at the evacuation center. He said he fears for his life, but still plans to go back to teaching at Alcadev, or else “the students will suffer.”
But for now, they will mourn as they bury their beloved leaders.