Manobo woman, logging foe, killed in Cotabato town

In this file photo, slain Manobo leader Merlinda Ansabu Celis (middle, facing camera) attends to food preparation during one of the indigenous people’s activities in their community in Cotabato. PHOTO FROM LUMADNONG PANAGHIUSA FARMERS’ ASSOCIATION OF MAGPET

COTABATO CITY–A Manobo woman in Magpet town, Cotabato province was attacked by four men while she was on her way to her farm at the village of Mahongkog in the town past 2 p.m. on Sunday (Aug. 23), according to police.

Merlin Ansabu Celis, 50, a resident of Magpet, was walking with her daughter and was on her way to her farm when she was shot from behind by one of the four men. As she fell, another assailant finished her off using a machete.

Her daughter managed to run and sought help in houses nearby.

Bae Leah Aurena-Labrador, provincial executive assistant on Indigenous Peoples in Cotabato province, said Celis had been actively advocating for the protection of indigenous peoples’ (IP) culture and ancestral domain at her village in the face of continued illegal logging.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack but Cotabato Gov. Nancy Catamco condemned the murder.

“This act may instill fear among our IP sisters and brothers whose only desire is to live in our ancestral domain, according to our culture and tradition,” said Catamco, a member of Manobo Dulangan tribe, in a statement.

“I condemn this incident,” she added. “It must stop as I speak. Otherwise, it will continue to destroy civilian and IP lives.”

Catamco called on police to investigate and to leave no stone unturned.

“Whoever has the evil mind to commit such crime on a helpless and defenseless woman should be brought before the bar of justice,” the governor said.

She urged the tribe to remain strong and assured the victim’s family the government would not abandon them.

Soldiers of the 72nd Infantry Battalion are on the hunt for the assailants.