The three men brutally slain in the rampage by a paramilitary group in Surigao del Sur were laid to rest, amid calls for the prosecution of their killers, suspected of following military orders.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Amid calls for justice, thousands of Lumads, peasants, workers and other progressives in Mindanao joined the separate funerals over the weekend for the three men killed by a paramilitary group in Surigao del Sur.
Tribal school director Emerito Samarca, and Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo were hailed as “martyrs” as they were laid to rest almost two weeks after they were killed by the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani Force, in suspected collusion with soldiers, on Sept. 1 in Diatagon village, Lianga.
Justice remains uncertain, even as Malacañang expressed support to the investigation on the incident, while the military issued denials of its involvement. Meanwhile, families of the victims, Lumad leaders and Diatagon residents who were themselves victims in the rampage, stand by their testimonies about military presence during the killings. Witnesses reportedly continue to receive threats, to prevent them from telling the truth.
“We will honor the deaths of our recent martyrs through our strong commitment to the truth,” said the Lumad group Kahugpungan Alang sa Lumadnong Organisasyon sa Caraga (Kasalo-Caraga).
Samarca was buried on Sept. 12 in Butuan City, Agusan del Sur province, while Campos and Sinzo were buried on Sept. 13, in Lianga. Also buried in Lianga was Renabel Enriquez, the four-year old girl who died at the grandstand of the Provincial sports center in Tandag city on Sept. 8, a week after 3,000 Lumads evacuated there for fear of more killings.
In mourning and indignation, some 10,000 joined the funeral march in Butuan city on Sept. 12. Marchers held a one-minute noise barrage as they passed by Camp Rafael Rodriguez, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP), and also at the Camp Bancasi, base of the Philippine Army 402nd Brigade.
On Sept. 13, during the burial for Campos and Sinzo in Lianga, Karapatan Caraga reported that four intelligence agents from Camp Bancasi were caught taking pictures and pretending to be among the mourners. One of those accosted carried a .45 caliber pistol. They were turned over to the Lianga police.
From Sept. 11 to 13, various groups in Metro Manila, Mindanao and abroad lit candles in unity with the national day of mourning declared by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Caraga. There has been broadening condemnation on the killings, and calls for the disbandment of paramilitary groups, as well as investigation into military complicity in the attacks.
Oplan Bayanihan targets Lumads
The Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples Rights (Karapatan-Caraga) condemned the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for “sheer shamelessness in concocting lies,” as they denied any involvement in the case.
President Aquino himself, in response to a question about the Lumad killings, said, “There is no campaign to kill anybody in this country. There is a campaign to go after everybody who commits crimes regardless of who they are.”
Indigenous and human rights groups have, however, attributed the persistent attacks against communities and schools as part of Aquino’s counterinsurgency campaign, Oplan Bayanihan.
“The other units of the AFP in Lumad communities in Mindanao, employ the same brutal tactics of armed bandits, or soldiers themselves, sowing terror to silence the Lumad people who have long been struggling,” said Kasalo, in a statement.
“Annihilate the head and brutally suppress to shock and awe – this is the military tactic used in the hope of declaring a so-called definitive victory in the last days of Noynoy Aquino and the AFP’s Oplan Bayanihan,” the group said.
Eliza Pangilinan, Karapatan Caraga secretary general, said the AFP cannot refute the statements by hundreds of residents who saw soldiers arrive and encamp in the Han-ayan community and at the Alcadev grounds, right before they were attacked by the Magahat-Bagani men.
“Gen. (Hernando) Iriberri dismisses the calls for AFP accountability as mere mud-slinging of communists and NPA sympathizers, notwithstanding the fact that units of the Philippine Army’s 75th and 36th infantry battalions and Special Forces were conducting military operations in the affected communities at the time. Capt. Patrick Martinez, 4th ID spokesperson, goes on to mouth military statistics, building up an image of the Lumad as a gullible tool of the NPA, their communities as the main base of the NPA, implying that they are legitimate military targets of the AFP’s Oplan Bayanihan,” Pangilinan said.
“This AFP line shows that they have no intention of protecting Lumad communities under Aquino’s counter-insurgency program. In fact, they are the target,” she said.
In its statement, Karapatan-Caraga quoted an account by Amalyn Ugking, a senior at Alcadev, who said she and her friends came across soldiers on Aug. 31 while coming back to school after a river swim in celebration of the school’s 11th Foundation Day:
“We were all very happy. Then we saw the soldiers. One of them said, ‘Sige, sadya sadya mo, basi buwas mawakwakan kamo,'” Ugking said. (Go on, be happy, you may come under attack tomorrow.)
Imelda Belandres, a Manobo leader who was present when the Magahat men attacked, was also quoted by Karapata-Caraga, describing the soldiers’ reaction as the community left Han-ayan: “They just watched us passing by, bringing our dead to Diatagon. They were laughing as they watched us.”
Kasalo said the pronouncements of the military officials and of the Office of the President “trivialize the killings, disregard our sufferings and fears, belittle our search for justice and security for our families – their lies insult our dignity as human beings, as honest people and as responsible Filipinos.”
‘Many are crying for justice’
Kasalo, in tribute to Samarca, said the executive director of the Alcadev “had struggled with and served the Lumad people for a long time that we consider him a Lumad by heart and commitment, if not by tribe.”
“They made a mistake in killing Onel, Emok and Datu Bello, because instead of intimidating and silencing hundreds of us who directly witnessed the brutal killing of the three, many have given strong testimonies, many refuse to be silenced and many refuse to hide what they know: many are crying for justice,” Kasalo said.