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AFP blasted in lumad slay probe

TANDAG CITY—Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel on Thursday slammed the military and the police for failing to disband the Magahat-Bagani forces despite the request to that effect he made last year.

“What I want is to arrest these fugitives who killed three lumad leaders and to suppress these paramilitary forces,” Pimentel said during a public hearing on the lumad killings here.

He made his statement even as Senator Teofisto Guingona III urged the military and the police to arrest the suspects in the Sept. 1 killing of a lumad school director and two lumad leaders in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

Protest. Members of the women’s group Gabriela hold a protest rally in support of the lumad in Marikina City on Thursday. Jansen Romero

Guingona, chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said several priests from the Surigao del Sur diocese had testified that the   suspects were freely roaming and even demanding money from the villagers in Surigao del Sur.

“The arrest is step one to bring back the confidence and heal the wounds of the injustice against the lumad,” Guingona said.

Glen Acosta, assistant parish priest of Barobo town, had testified that last week, one of the suspects, Bobby Tejero, was sighted in one of the villages.

Education Secretary Armin Luistro reiterated that his agency had condemned the killing of three lumad leaders in Sitio Han-ayan, Lianga town, and promised it would help the agencies investigating the case.

“The investigation is now in the hands of the Department of Justice and I heard also the Commission on Human Rights,” Luistro said after attending a convention in Pasay City Wednesday night.

But members of the Save Our Schools Network said the Department of Education was partly to blame as it was allowing soldiers and paramilitary groups to set foot in campuses.

Pimentel said the military was complicit in the killings in Surigao del Sur as it was allowing paramilitary groups to operate in the province.

“If you are not, why can’t you suppress these paramilitary forces?” Pimentel said.

“We have requested since last year that you disband these armed groups because we cannot obtain peace in Surigao because of them.”

Pimentel criticized the AFP for its supposed involvement in the displacement of over 3,500 families from five municipalities in the province, and of whom many were seeking temporary shelter in an evacuation site near the provincial capitol.

Surigao del Sur has since been placed under a state of calamity following the lumad killings and the mass evacuation.

Pimentel claimed the paramilitary group was equipped with high-powered firearms, which he said could only have been provided by the AFP.

The religious leaders present during the public hearing testified that military camps were near the camps of the paramilitary forces, fueling suspicion that the AFP was deliberately not doing anything to suppress them.

“Army camp in Barangay Karumata in San Miguel town is just one-and-a-half kilometers away from the Magahat-Bagani camp of Datu Jasmin Acevedo,” said Sister Maria Gemma Abellana of the religious order ICM.

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