Solve slays, AFP, PNP dared by governor
TANDAG, Surigao Del Sur—Surigao Gov. Johnny Pimentel pressed the military and police Friday to solve the killings of three lumad leaders despite military claims that the killers were members of the communist New People’s Army.
“The AFP and PNP should [carry out] their mandate. The fact remains that three people were killed, there’s a warrant of arrest, and they must solve it.
The people are waiting, they won’t go home unless these three people are arrested,” Pimentel told The Standard after public hearings on lumad killings in the province.
Pimentel didn’t accept the military’s explanation that the communist rebels were behind the spate of killings in Mindanao.
“We’ve already identified the perpetrators, and it’s not the New Peoples’ Army. It’s the armed group that is called Mahagat Baghani. We cannot call them paramilitary forces because it’s been established in this hearing that they are a lawless armed group,” he added.
Some 3,500 lumad evacuees from five municipalities—Barobo, Tandag, San Miguel, Marihatag and Lianga have fled their homes and sought refuge at the provincial capitol arena since September, with some staying for as long as two months.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, who also heads the Senate committee on cultural communities, said that the lumad evacuees cannot go home to their ancestral domains because they fear that these lawless groups would wreak havoc on their communities.
“These IP’s won’t go home because the perpetrators who were behind the crimes, the terrorism, the murders are still here— roaming around freely, extorting [from] people as we talk. I don’t expect them to go back to where they live until those three, at least those three, have been captured and brought to justice,” Guingona said.
“If the military and police don’t know where the killers are they should ask the parish priests because they can say where, which barangay and what activities they are engaged in,” he added.
The military continued to claim the attacks were the work of NPA rebels.
Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao said that the military was present in the communities as part of their mandate to maintain the peace in the areas.
“Our presence in communities is for the peacekeeping missions to prevent the spread of the NPA,” Lactao said.
Some witnesses who said they were former students of the lumad schools said they were breeding grounds for the rebels.
“What they were teaching us was how to fight the government, and to support insurgency,” said Reuben Acebedo.
Teachers from the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development and Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur Schools, non-government organizations connected to the Diocese of Tandag, denied these claims.
“We’re not part of the NPA. We’re hurt because the military continues to claim us as such when really, we’re not,” said Gideon Galicia, a lumad teacher working for ALCADEV.
Sis. Stella Matutina, a Benedictine sister from Marihatag town, said some 173 displaced families, comprised of about 954 individuals from Barangays Mahaba, Boringon and Palompon left their homes on Thursday night and have sought temporary shelter at Marihatag gymnasium after reports that the Mahagat Baghani would wreak havoc on their homes.
Matutina hit the military for continuously diverting the attention of the public on the true plight of the lumad.
“We’re here to listen to the plight of the people, We’re talking to the lumad people and their urgent response is they want to go home,” Matutina said.
Parish priests in Surigao also expressed doubt over military denials that they helped create the armed groups.
They also demanded the immediate disbanding of the paramilitary groups and the arrest of Bobby and Loloy Tejero, and Garito Layno, the named suspects in the Lianga murders.
The Surigao governor called for immediate action from the police and the military.
“We must not resort to finger pointing but there’s a warrant of arrest... Arrest those who need to be arrested,” Pimentel said.
In the town of Marihatag, Surigao del Sur, a fresh wave of fighting between government troops and an unidentified armed group triggered a new round of evacuation.
Marihatag town Mayor Allan Pelenio told the Senate committee on justice that more than 200 Manobo families or 1,000 persons fled their homes in Barangay Mahaba, eight kilometers from the town center.
Pelenio said he sent two trucks to fetch the residents from three sitios from Barangay Mahaba and the poblacion of Barangay Mahaba.
“There is nothing left there right now except stray dongs and untended pigs,” Barangay Mahaba Kagawad Alejandro Sanchez said.
Sanchez said they fled their villages after a fresh wave of fighting erupted between soldiers and armed men believed to be NPA rebels.
He said they could hear the fighting getting nearer to their houses so they decided to flee Thursday night.
Benny Kanon, 64, said they saw members of the Bagani group led by Bobby Tejero, a suspect in the Sept. 1 killing of a school director and two lumad leaders in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
Kanon said Tejero and the Bagani groups came after the soldiers arrived in their village on Thursday and demanded that the villagers identify NPA members among them.
“We had to flee because we do not want to become their victims,” he said.
Guingona said the police needed to arrest the Tejero brothers and Garito Layno immediately to restore confidence among the lumad.
“The name of Bobby Tejero is already enough to trigger a mass evacuation. They should be arrested. This is step no. 1 to restore the confidence of the lumad,” Guingona said.
Police have filed murder and arson charges against the suspects for the killing of Emerito Samarca, 54, executive director of ALCADEV, a school for lumad.
A press statement later released by the Armed Forces said witnesses at the Senate hearing welcomed the military presence in their communities to protect them from the communist rebels.
The AFP also quoted one tribal leader, Rico Maca, of San Miguel, Surigao del Sur, as saying three out of four NPA rebels in the area were indigenous people, who were being used by the communists.