Bastardization of the bagani

FILE PHOTO. Indigenous groups protest in front of President Aquino's residence on Times Street. (Photo by D.Ayroso/
FILE PHOTO. Indigenous groups protest in front of President Aquino’s residence on Times Street. (Photo by D.Ayroso/

RELATED STORY: From Martial Law to ‘daang matwid,” paramilitary groups are alive and killing

“We have no discord, they are our brothers…but when the military armed them, they no longer recognize us as kin. And it hurts, because Lumads are being killed by other Lumads.”


MANILA – Magahat, to the indigenous Manobos, is the one who keeps peace and order and follows the command of the datu (tribal chieftain) to discipline those who violate tribal rules. Similarly, the bagani is a hero who defends the tribe from outside threats. Both are part of the traditional security and defense system of the Lumád which are no longer practiced in modern times.

The words magahat and bagani, however, recently entered the nation’s consciousness not with their original virtuous meaning, but as butchers, as the ruthless paramilitary group which killed three well-loved leaders in Surigao del Sur on Sept. 1: school director Emerito Samarca, and Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo.

The leaders of the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani are no strangers to the Han-ayan community in Diatagon village, Lianga, with whom they share blood relations, and are even referred to as “uncle” by some youths.

They are also known to be affiliated with the military, a link which, in turn, broke their kinship to the Lumad communities, under a well-worn divide-and-rule tactic employed by government to impose its programs.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was quick to deny its connection to the paramilitary group, and attributed the spate of killings to a “tribal war,” purportedly, between clashing tribes affiliated with the New People’s Army versus those with the government.

The AFP claim dismisses the testimonies of hundreds of residents of the communities of Han-ayan and Kilometer 16, who said that the arrival and encampment of soldiers served as prelude to the Magahat-Bagani attacks, and that they were in the area as the killings happened.

The Lumád group, Malahutayong Pakigbisig Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu) refuted the AFP claim.

“For us, there is no tribal war, because we have no discord. They are our brothers. We do not differ, we have good relations. But when the AFP armed them, they no longer recognize us as kin. And it hurts, because Lumads are being killed by other Lumads,” said Eufemia Cullamat, Mapasu council member.

Han-ayan resident Cullamat said that in the past, paramilitary groups merely accompanied soldiers.

“In our past four evacuations – in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011 – it was the soldiers who commit the human rights violations. When we hold dialogues so we can return home, we directed our complaints against the AFP,” Cullamat said.

But in 2014, it was paramilitary men led by Datu Calpit Egua who killed Mapasu leader Henry Alameda in his home in San Isidro village.

“During the (2014) dialogues, the AFP washed their hands off their paramilitary’s crimes. And since 2014, they began saying there is a tribal war,” Cullamat said.

“The AFP has consciously misused the indigenous culture and customary defense systems with the creation of paramilitary groups that sow division among us, pitting Lumad against Lumad,” said Piya Macliing Malayao, secretary general of the Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu).

“Worse, it misappropriated the tradition magahat and bagani into these paramilitary forces to legitimize its attacks against the Lumad in a bid to gain victories in implementing its failed Oplan Bayanihan,” she said.

Tampuda: Manobo unity threatened

Tribal wars in Surigao del Sur became a thing of the past, after datus from five clashing Manobo tribes in Surigao del Sur sealed a tampuda, a peace agreement, some 50 years ago, said Josephine Pagalan, spokesperson of Kasalo-Caraga and resident of Han-ayan.

The tampuda dissolved the boundaries, and differences between tribes, and bound them as one collective unit managing their ancestral lands.

This unity has been threatened by government agencies, such as the National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) which push for the titling of ancestral lands, with certificates of ancestral domain titles and claims (CADT/CADC), provided under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA).

Indigenous groups had criticized CADTs and CADCs as a way to divide the sprawling ancestral lands under indigenous communal ownership, into smaller, bite-sized, individual, private properties – the better to be encroached in by extractive and agribusiness companies.

“That will destroy the tampuda,” said Joan Jaime of Katribu. “The datus say, ‘That is why we are being killed, because we are resisting the CADT, and we don’t want the title because it will destroy the tampuda.”’

An unpublished study on the Arroyo counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) said land titles are among the incentives being used by Lumad paramilitary groups in their recruitment. Among the groups which began aggressive recruitment a few years ago is the Task Force Gantangan-Bagani Force (TFG-BF).

The study said that those who refused to be recruited to the TFG were branded as NPAs. This forcible recruitment was one of the reasons for the massive evacuation in 2009.

Task Force Gantangan

The study by the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace and Karapatan, quotes from the defunct AFP publication called “Gantangan,” which brags that the TFG was the culmination of the AFP’s “effort to support/protect the sector.”

“On February 1, 2008 the TFG was ‘officially activated’ under the Eastern Mindanao Command as part of the AFP’s “internal security operations,” said the OBL study. “The TFG, according to the AFP, is the application of the NISP (National Internal Security Program) ‘in the indigenous peoples sector’ in Mindanao.”

“Gantangan” is loosely translated as “to equalize,” and the paramilitary group was apparently in response to the AFP’s perception of a strong presence of revolutionary groups in the Lumad communities, which the AFP said “are targeted by the CPP/NPA/NDF (Communist Party, New People’s Army, National Democratic Front) for guerrilla-base building and NPA vertical development.”

“The AFP estimates that in Mindanao, ‘50 to 70 percent of the NPAs are IPs,’” the OBL study said.

“The creation of the TFG-BF clearly intends to augment the AFP’s fighting force for its counter-insurgency operations,” the study said.

Data gathered by the study said that as of 2009, the TFG offered salaries ranging from P800 ($17) a month, plus a sack of rice, or up to P2,000 ($43), if the recruit joins a military operation.”The military also promised a higher salary of P8,000 ($172) per month once the so-called development project, a mining operation, in Andap Valley starts,” the study said.

The OBL study said the TFG also offered communities titles or certificates to their ancestral lands. Some leaders of Lumad paramilitary groups hold titles or claims to thousands of hectares of resource-rich land, now covered by application for mining.

“Dangling land titles to Lumad leaders to ally with the military clearly disrespects the indigenous people’s view on land, and slowly transforms communal land ownership to personal ownership. This is plain exploitation and bastardization of the indigenous culture to win over the trust of the tribes, all in the name of counter-insurgency,” the OBL study said.


Pagalan said that when the Lumad communities of Diatagon village evacuated in 2009, military officials Col. Danilo Fabian, then of the 401st brigade, and then 58th IB chief Lt. Col. Benjamin Pedralvez brought with them TFG leader Marcos Bocales to the dialogue. Then, as now, the officials had denied that the paramilitary group is under their command.

Bocales, one of those who had aggressively recruited for TFG, is now one of the leaders of Magahat-Bagani, along with Calpit Egua and Marcial Belandres. The paramilitary group’s name has changed, but the faces, and objectives remain the same.

“Dionel Campos was targeted because of the 59,000 hectares of Mapasu areas which remains untouched by mining, because of the defense of the Lumad,” said Pagalan.

“The bandit paramilitary group killed Dionel in front of the people, thinking that with our chairman dead, the struggle to defend our ancestral land will stop. But they are wrong,” she said.

“Land is life and we are not just fighting for ourselves, but for all of us,” she said.

Dregs of society

One of the survivors of the attack in Han-ayan recalled seeing at least one soldier, along with the Magahat men, as they routed the residents out of their homes. All the armed men wore battle fatigues, but one distinctly wore a patch which says “Philippine Army.” He said soldiers were clean-cut, wore combat boots, and taller.

The Magahat men, meanwhile, wore rubber boots, had longer hair, dark teeth and “looked like they don’t bathe,” he said.

Pagalan described the members of the Magahat-Bagani as dregs of the tribe.

“We know them as those who have no stable residence, no community, always shifting, and are easy to be bribed and bought. They are not like us who have our own homes, our land, and stable source of livelihood,” Pagalan said.

Governor wants them gone, solon wants them recognized

In the face of the trail of human rights violations by paramilitary groups, an exasperated Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel had come out in recent weeks denouncing them as a “monster created by the military.” He said he wants them at least disbanded, or at most, dead.

Ironically, North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco said she wants the “bagani” recognized and regulated under the law, apparently referring to the paramilitary groups which carry the name, but not its true spirit and honour.

Lumad leaders opposed the proposal of the solon, who had been denounced for instigating a raid on a church sanctuary, allegedly to “rescue” Lumad evacuees.

It shows not only her insensitivity to the victims of the tragedy being attributed to the paramilitary, but also her ignorance of the plight of Lumads whom she claims kinship with.

Indigenous and human rights groups have long called for the dismantling and disarmament of paramilitary groups, whose blood trail has grown longer, since Martial Law to the present.
Malayao insisted that the spate of killings does not stem from tribal conflict.“These killings are under the context of the counterinsurgency program which is running short on a deadline,” she said.

“The Aquino government and the AFP – the creators and instigators of these killing machines – must pay for the crimes committed against the Lumad communities,” Malayao said.

RELATED STORY: From Martial Law to ‘daang matwid,” paramilitary groups are alive and killing

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