Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 2, Number 11 April 21 - 27, 2002 Quezon City, Philippines
Barrio Wedding Ends in Massacre
The dreaded Citizens Armed Force Geographic Unit (Cafgu), whose disbandment had been sought in Congress years ago for atrocities committed against unarmed civilians and guerrilla suspects, has figured again in an alleged massacre in less than two weeks in Mindanao – this time in Davao. Four farmers died instantly in the alleged wedding massacre while six others, three of them children, were wounded. The Armed Forces spokesperson recently revealed that the Philippine Army, which commands the Cafgu, has recruited 20,000 more paramilitary men to be fielded against the New People’s Army nationwide.
JOWEL F. CANUDAY
DAVAO CITY – April 15 was supposed to have been a day of festivity in a community called Pangyan, in barangay Tamugan, a hinterland part of Marilog district in this city. On that day, a Monday, an alleged New People’s Army cadre known as Ka (short for comrade) Pipoy was set to marry one Ka Mayang. The couple had invited local residents to the wedding, even inviting a peasant leader, Apolonio Enoc, as one of the godfathers.
Most of those who attended the NPA wedding, which was held in a coconut grove in the village, were huddled near the kitchen, preparing pork dishes, when around 16 soldiers and paramilitary men from the Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion opened fire.
"I don't know what got into them. They started shooting when they could clearly see that there were children in the area," said Moroy Manlatas, one of the survivors. He said his son, nine-year-old Sonny, was playing nearby when the shots rang out.
Fortunately, Manlatas’s wife, who was breastfeeding their 10-month-old baby a few meters away from him, was able to run away and escaped toward the woods as soon as the soldiers began firing.
Four persons were hit instantly and died on the spot; two others died moments later, one of them – Enoc, the godfather -- allegedly finished off by a Cafgu member. Six civilians, three of them children (including Manlatas’s son Sonny), were wounded in the attack.
The Army immediately told the media that those who died in the raid were Communist guerrillas and that only two had been injured. But witnesses and survivors later revealed that, in fact, all of the casualties were civilians and that the wounded numbered six, three of them children.
The casualties were identified as Apolonio Enoc, Edgar Blas, Jaime Dakula, Luisita Icapan, Warlito Bayanban and Charles Bayanban.
Blas, according to residents, had been an NPA guerrilla but was about to surrender to Warlito Bayanban, a barangay council member, and his brother Charles. Severina Canubas, one of the survivors, said Blas had left the NPA about a week before his death. She said Blas went to the wedding to talk to NPA leaders at that time to formalize his plan to "lie low" and surrender to the military.
The soldiers and Cafgu members also allegedly planted evidence on Blas to make it appear that he was still with the movement at the time of his death. One witness said Blas was not wearing a vest during the wedding but he was already wearing one in the pictures taken by the soldiers of the victims.
‘Please help me’
Enoc, a 64-year-old official of the militant Farmers Association of Davao City (FADC), was finished off by one of the Cafgu elements. Witnesses said Enoc was bleeding from a gunshot wound in the left leg when Loreto “Toto” Palma, a former guerrilla who has since become a paramilitary man, approached him and asked if he was Enoc. Enoc replied: “Yes, but please help me.”
"We heard Poloy (Enoc) cry for help. He told Toto he is a civilian but Toto instead asked if he was Enoc and when he said yes, we heard gunfire and when we looked at Enoc's direction, he was dead," said Hermogenes Canubas, one of the survivors.
Enoc's daughter, Nita, said her father was in the area to serve as godfather at the wedding. She said he could not refuse the request of the groom because "the reality is, there are NPAs in our area and they had befriended us."
Florita Mansolinoy, 24, an Ata-Matigsalug who was wounded by shrapnels in her buttocks, said five of the fatalities and four of the wounded are her relatives. They were attending the wedding of Mayang, their cousin.
Mansolinoy said that one of those killed, Warlito Bayanban, was also her cousin who was a member of the Tamugan barangay council. Bayanban's brother, Charles, was also killed in the raid. Charles’ eight-year-old son Tu was also wounded in the attack.
One of the wounded, Luisita, was not an NPA amazon as the military claimed but an Ata-Matigsalug who was four months pregnant and a relative of the bride, said Mansolinoy.
After the raid, peasants Hermogenes Canubas, 65, and his wife Severina were arrested and detained at the 73rd IB in Malagos this city where they were allegedly threatened with death by Palma, Enoc’s alleged killer.
But Maj. Vic Tomas, spokesperson of the Army's 701st Infantry Brigade, maintained that Enoc was a member of the NPA. He also said that when they recovered Enoc's body, his fingers appeared to have pressed a trigger although no firearm was recovered from him.
Tomas said he will initiate an investigation on the incident to determine if, indeed, the Army and Cafgu members violated the rules of engagement.
He also said that the military is sticking to its earlier claim that the incident was a "legitimate encounter." He said all six persons killed in the gunfire that, according to him, lasted 30 minutes were NPA guerrillas. "For now, we are sticking to our story that all of those who were slain in the incident are members of the NPA," he said.
But Enoc’s colleagues at FADC, as well as the relatives of the victims, are demanding a speedy investigation into the military’s alleged violations in the incident.
FADC has called on the Commission on Human Rights and Congress to investigate the raid. In a press conference last week, Maximino Goc-ong presented three farmers who witnessed how the injured Enoc was finished off by a Cafgu member.
Ready to testify
The three said that they are ready to testify against the Cafgu members and the military. They said the soldiers continued firing at them, even lobbing a grenade at them, even if they had shouted that they were civilians.
The Marilog incident took place less than two weeks after a human-rights activist and writer, Benjaline “Beng” Hernandez, and three other persons were allegedly massacred by elements of the Cafgu and the military in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato.
The next day, Jennylou Alejan, a Talaandig who is active in her tribe's quest to regain their ancestral domain from the Central Mindanao University in Bukidnon, was gunned down by still unidentified assailants while dancing during a social gathering in Valencia City.
These alleged violations of human rights, as well as previous ones recorded nationwide, have prompted the Philippine Catholic Lay Missionaries (PCLM) to say that there is a resurgence of militarization in hinterland areas nationwide.
Dean Dicen, PCLM national coordinator, said the extent of militarization appears to be similar to that in the late 1970s and early 1980s when military detachments and formations were seen all over many provinces in the country.
Dicen said currently, areas most militarized are the far-flung communities where members of the New People's Army (NPA) are reportedly active, particularly in rural villages in the Ilocos region, Bicol, Central Luzon, Samar and most parts of Mindanao.
Escalation of violence
Dicen, who had worked as a lay missionary in San Luis, Agusan del Sur in the 1980s, said while their mission work is not affected by heavy deployment of soldiers, they are concerned of the situation in rural areas as it could lead to the escalation of violence and political turmoil similar to that of the mid-1980s.
San Luis was also among the areas where the military deployed several of its forces in the 1980s. Recently, the Army once again sent a number of soldiers in San Luis following an NPA attack on a police station in the area last year.
In 1978, then Davao Archbishop Antonio Mabutas issued a statement concerning the "Reign of Terror in the Countryside" amid the series of killings of church workers at that time.
In the mid-1980s, church and various human rights groups then denounced the late dictator President Ferdinand Marcos for the string of rights violations in the country. Some 10,000 of them actually won in the celebrated human rights class suit in a federal court in Hawaii against the estate of the late president. Bulatlat.com
report is compiled from dispatches by the author for MindaNews, an independent
news agency based in Davao City, Mindanao.)