By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The five individuals killed in New Bataan, Davao de Oro are civilians about to conduct community visits for their research work, the Save our Schools (SOS) Network said.
The group said that on Feb. 23 at 9:30 p.m., volunteer teachers Chad Booc and Gelejurain Ngujo II, community health worker Elgyn Balonga and two accompanying drivers were on their way back to Davao City when they were shot dead.
Balonga was able to send a text message asking her family to fetch them. This was the last known contact, the group said.
The families of the victims and the SOS Network learned of the massacre on Feb. 25 after the 10th Infantry Division posted a press release on their official Facebook page claiming “that the five were killed in an encounter.”
However, information from locals said no encounter took place in the area.
“We strongly assert that the victims were community volunteers and civilians from varying backgrounds, and their murder must merit the strongest condemnation,” the group said.
Booc was a cum laude graduate from University of the Philippines-Diliman with a degree in Computer Science. He became a volunteer teacher in the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) in Surigao del Sur in 2016. In 2020, he joined Lumad students and datus in Cebu where they sought sanctuary in one of the retreat houses of University of San Carlos-Talamban campus. It was here when, in 2021, authorities raided the area and arrested Booc and six others. Police filed trumped up charges against them which were eventually dismissed by court.
“Despite this ruling, Chad continued to be targeted by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and feared for his life,” SOS Network said.
Ngujo was a graduate of Liceo de Davao – Briz Campus in Tagum City with a degree in Secondary Education majoring in English. After graduation, he became a teacher in Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao (CTCSM). In 2018, he volunteered to become a teacher for the Bakwit School in Manila and then in Cebu in 2019 and 2020. He was also subjected to threats and intimidation for his work as a volunteer teacher for the Lumad school.
Balonga was a community health worker who served in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines-Haran, a Lumad sanctuary in Davao City, from 2013 to 2018. The SOS Network said Balonga facilitated medical students for their internship in UCCP Haran.
She was also active in numerous medical missions in remote areas such as Talaingod and Kapalong, Davao del Norte, the group added.
“Throughout their years of service, Chad, Jurain, and Elgyn had been subjected to threats, harassment, intimidation, including death threats, red-tagging and terror-tagging, and surveillance. It is then even more deplorable that the people who take up the initiative to serve in far-flung communities, where the Duterte government cares little to address the needs of its residents, are targeted and killed,” SOS Network said.
The group demands an immediate and impartial investigation of the massacre, saying this is a violation of human rights and international humanitarian law.
They also called on advocates, friends and supporters to ensure that Booc and others will be brought home.
“Because of the nature and the history of the military in desecrating even the dead, we anticipate delays in the retrieval of the victims’ bodies and even possible harassment and intimidation from the part of the fascist military and the NTF-ELCAC in the coming days,” the group said.
Meanwhile, many groups are expressing solidarity and are calling for justice for the death of New Bataan 5.
In a statement, women’s group Gabriela said the killing of New Bataan 5 only shows the need to disband the NTF-ELCAC, “which relentlessly red-tagged Teacher Chad until they were finally killed.”
Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno also said that the Duterte administration has blatantly violated the rights of Lumads to education and other public services, ancestral lands, and self-determination. “Instead of providing services and uplifting the livelihoods of the poor, Duterte halted the peace talks and deposited billions of funds into the military and formed the NTF-ELCAC to attack and kill Lumads and peasants,” KMU said.
Sandugo-Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination meanwhile appealed to the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the killing of Booc and his companions “in order to establish the facts behind the murders.”
“Sandugo Alliance has long sounded the alarm that the government’s relentless disinformation and red-tagging lay the groundwork for murder. Booc and Ngujo are the latest additions to the growing body of proof; we fear that they will not be the last. The vilification and killings must stop now,” the group added.
They implore the military to treat the remains of the victims with respect and turn them over to their families and organizations immediately.
“Let them grieve in peace,” the group said.
“Sandugo Alliance salutes Booc and Ngujo, our constant companions in the quest for self-determination. They were generous in sharing their youthful years with the marginalized, but like land and rights, their precious lives were also brutally taken by the state. We will never forget,” they added. (RVO)