“He became the leader in his class. After school, he helped his father in tilling a piece of land.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — In June this year, 19-year-old Obillo Bay-ao decided to go back to school after stopping for a while due to economic constraints.
His teacher Ramel Miguel said Bay-ao wanted to finish his studies so he could serve his community. He was a Grade 6 student but was included in Grade 7 classes in consideration of his age. “He became the leader in his class. After school, he helped his father in tilling a piece of land.”
On Sept. 5, Bay-ao went with his father and his brother to harvest corn just a few kilometers away from their home in sitio Dulyan, barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte. After lunch, Bay-ao complained of headache and decided to go home early. On his way home, two elements of the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) shot at Bay-ao. The victim managed to run toward the village despite gunshot wounds on his back. Several residents saw Bay-ao and the gunmen who were identified as Joven Salangani and Ben Salangani. Bay-ao was rushed to the Davao Regional Hospital in Tagum City. He was declared dead at 9:15 p.m.
“How could he serve the community now that he was killed?” Miguel said in a press conference at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.
According to Save Our Schools (SOS) network, Bay-ao is the 47th Lumad killed in Southern Mindanao alone.
Ruis Valle, spokesperson of SOS network, said the attacks on Lumad schools have escalated after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the bombing of schools on July 24.
Kerlan Fanagel of Sandugo, an alliance of national minorities, blamed Duterte for the death of Bay-ao and the continuing killings in Mindanao. Fanagel said Duterte “legitimized the killings and sufferings of Lumad when he transformed Alamara into Cafgu.” The perpetrators in Bay-ao killing were former members of Alamara, a paramilitary group linked to the Army’s 60th Infantry Battalion.
Fanagel said he faced Duterte in several dialogues when the latter was still the Davao City mayor and the chairman of the Regional Peace and Order Council in Region 11. “He knew about the crimes of Alamara. He even told us, “‘Pag ako naging presidente, disarmahan natin ‘yan.” (When I become president, we would disarm Alamara.)
Fanagel raised the same plea when he and other leaders of people’s organizations talked to Duterte after his first State of the Nation Address in 2016.
Sustained attacks vs Lumad schools
Elements of Alamara strafed the STICLC in Talaingod several times in June, forcing students and their parents to evacuate in July. In August, the evacuees went back to their community.
Valle said Bay-ao was intentionally killed by Alamara because he was a student of Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center (STICLC). He said the military has vilified the Lumad schools as training grounds for rebels.
Valle said the military and the government do not want Lumad to learn how to assert their rights and to defend their ancestral land.
In between sobs, Bay-ao’s cousin and classmate Rorelyn Mandacawan, told Duterte, “Pag-uwi namin, maghahawak na kami ng armas. Ikaw ang nagtuturo sa amin paano magrebelde.”