“The truth about the killings and forcible evacuation has been clear since the first week of the incident, yet in the delay, many lies have been forcefully fed to the public to justify the systematic military operations against Lumad schools, progressive organizations and communities in Mindanao.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Cries for justice echoed at a protest near Malacañang here today, Oct. 10, on the 40th day since the Lianga killings. Progressive groups called for the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators who remain at large and were even seen roaming with soldiers, while the communities they have threatened are suffering in evacuation centers.
The Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayang Pilipino (Katribu) led groups of urban poor, students, the religious and workers who carried candles as they marched from Recto Avenue corner Loyola street towards Don Chino Roces Bridge (formerly Mendiola Bridge).
But for Katribu, getting justice means making the highest official of the land accountable.
“Oplan Bayanihan is a policy which attacks and kills civilians…the Aquino government is clearly allowing this policy,” said Piya Macliing-Malayao, Katribu secretary general.
“On President Aquino’s first day out of office, we will not let him get away for continuing this impunity,” she said.
Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo of Mapasu, and Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) were killed by Magahat-Bagani men on Sept. 1 in Han-ayan community, Diatagon village in Lianga, even as soldiers of the 36th and 75th infantry battalion were in the vicinity. The killings set off evacuations from Lumad communities, with 3,000 individuals now seeking refuge in Tandag City.
In the program held at the Mendiola Peace Arch, Alcadev student Amalyn Ugking, 18, raised her fist in tribute to “the three martyrs,” and vowed to continue their legacy of service to the Lumad. She also hoped that the evacuees may soon be able to return home, and continue living peacefully.
Similar protests were also held in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur and other areas in Mindanao.
Arrest warrants yet to be served
On Sept. 8, families of the victims filed criminal charges against Bobby Tejero, Loloy Tejero, Garito Layno and 25 “John Does,” who are all members of the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group. The Tejero brothers were positively identified by witnesses as the ones who shot Campos and Sinzo.
The charges — multiple murder, arson, robbery, grave coercion and grave threat – were filed at the Lianga municipal prosecutor’s office. Judge Edwin Malazarte of Branch 28 of the Lianga regional trial court issued arrest warrants on Sept.22, which are yet to be served.
Meanwhile, some 954 individuals from three communities of Mahaba village, Marihatag town, Surigao del Sur, have evacuated to the municipal gym after residents saw the Tejero brothers roaming the area with soldiers of the Special Forces, according to the human rights group Karapatan.
“Despite countless opportunities to arrest the masterminds and executioners of the killings and continuing threats against the evacuees from Mapasu areas in Lianga, San Agustin, Marihatag and San Miguel, not a single one has been arrested,” said a joint statement by the Lumad groups Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu) and Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon sa Caraga (Kasalo Caraga).
“The truth about the killings and forcible evacuation has been clear since the first week of the incident, yet in the delay, many lies have been forcefully fed to the public to justify the systematic military operations against Lumad schools, progressive organizations and communities in Surigao del Sur and other parts of Mindanao,” said the group.
“These crimes were planned and systematic killings to instill fear, silence and drive out communities and schools from Diatagon village that, for a long time, prevented the entry of private businesses salivating at the timber and mineral resources in these mountains,” said the Lumad groups.
While the perpetrators of the Lianga killings remain at large, another Lumad activist Manobo Lito Abion of the group Tagdumahan was shot dead by suspected military assets in San Luis, Agusan del Sur on Sept. 28.
In Alegria, Surigao del Norte, farmer Jupiter Pacquiao was shot by police who belong to the Regional Public Safety Management Battalion (RPSMB), claiming he was a New People’s Army fighter caught in an encounter on Oct. 6.
Several dialogues had been held by the Lumad groups and victims with the Commission on Human Rights and the Department of Justice.
“It is sad to note that the resolution to the Lumad killings takes a back seat in the political discussion of the Aquino government due to the busy preparation of his party’s bid for elections next year,” said Kerlan Fanagel, chairperson of Pasaka, the regional Lumad organization in Southern Mindanao.
Mapasu and Kasalo-Caraga noted that the public investigation by the Senate committee on justice and human rights held in Tandag City Oct. 1 and 2, heard testimonies about the paramilitary groups having “powerful backers.”
“It was clear that the AFP itself set up, armed and accompanied the armed bandit groups of Bocales-Belandres-Egua, including the bandit group of Hasmin Acevedo in San Miguel. Not only the direct victims, but even church people and officials of the government in Surigao del Sur attested to this,” the groups said.
The hearing was led by Senators Teofisto Guingona III and Aquilino Pimentel III.
Military officials in the hearing, meanwhile, laid claims about NPA-infiltration in the organizations, schools and communities.
“They concocted these allegations to justify their attacks against civilians and the schools. The statement of Senator Guingona was clear: ideology is not a basis for summarily killing, driving out or threatening any person. The perpetrators of the killings and many other crimes were identified, but the military made itself inutile as this was part of their tactics and plan,” the Lumad groups said.
The Lumad groups also cited the “media sorties” in Manila of those who claim to be Lumad chieftains, with the assistance of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“It is 40 days yet the criminals Loloy Tejero, Garito Layno, Bobby Tejero and their armed cohorts are still freely roaming the communities. Marcial Belandres, who is one of their leaders, is freely cavorting with his military escorts in Manila. Marcos Bocales, Calpet Egua, Hasmin Acevedo and their band are holed up in military camps, some of them joining military operations in the mountains, while the loved ones of those they have killed continue to grieve, and the communities that they continue to threaten continue to suffer in the evacuation center,” the Lumad groups said.