‘We were all asleep’: Tribal leaders say no villager was armed when cops, soldiers killed 9 in IP communities
ILOILO CITY—Fear, even of sleeping in their homes, has descended on residents of an indigenous people’s village in Capiz province after leaders and members of their community were gunned down in a coordinated police operation last Wednesday (Dec. 30).
Jobelyn Giganto, Lahug village chief, said in a phone interview that people in her community planned to sleep in the village’s day care center on New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31) “because we fear that something will happen again while we are sleeping.”
“I have been telling the people here that despite what happened, we should continue to unite and face our situation together,” she said.
Nine villagers, mostly leaders of the indigenous people’s alliance Tumanduk, were killed in a joint police and military operation at 16 villages—10 in the town of Tapaz in Capiz and six in Calinog town in Iloilo province—last Wednesday.
Sixteen others were arrested in the operation that started at 3 a.m. and lasted until the afternoon and conducted by agents of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and other policemen of the Western Visayas Philippine National Police office.
Among those killed was Jobelyn’s brother-in-law, Roy, a former village chief. Also killed were an incumbent village councilor and chair of Tumanduk, an alliance of 17 indigenous peoples’ communities in Tapaz and Jamindan towns in Capiz and the town of Calinog in Iloilo province.
The alliance is composed of members of the Tumandok tribe, also called Sulodnon and Bukidnon by scholars.
Jobelyn recalled that the people were already sleeping around 4 a.m. when they were roused by men ordering them to stay inside their houses.
She said some members of the raiding team broke into the house of Roy, her brother-in-law, “dragged his wife out and shot him.”
Jobelyn said her house was just beside Roy’s.
“We are not armed and how can they say he fought back when all of us were asleep when they came,” she said.
Aside from Roy, two others were killed in Lahug—village council members Reynaldo Katipunan and Mario Aguirre.
The others slain during the operation were Garson Catamin and Rolando Diaz (Nawayan village), Maurito Diaz (Tacayan village), Eliseo Gayas Jr. (Aglinab village), Artilito Katipunan (Acuna village) and Jomar Vidal (Daan-Sur village).
Lt. Col. Gervacio Balmaceda, CIDG Western Visayas chief, said the coordinated operation on the boundary of Capiz and Iloilo provinces was a legitimate law enforcement action against armed communist rebels.
“The nine died when they fired at positions of law enforcement officers,” he said.
Balmaceda said policemen served 28 search warrants against subjects in Tapaz town in Capiz and Calinog town in Iloilo “based on information from civilians about the presence of personalities with high powered firearms and explosives.”
“This is a regular law enforcement activity against loose firearms,” he said on Wednesday.
The policemen allegedly found firearms and explosives in the houses of those killed and arrested in the villages which Balmaceda described as “influenced” by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.
Balmaceda said one police officer was injured after slipping.
But Jobelyn denied that those killed and arrested were rebels or influenced by NPA, the armed wing of Communist Party of the Philippines.
“We could not even eat three times a day and feed our children. If we are rebels, we will not be living and sleeping here,” she said.
Jobelyn said the people were not fighting the government even if they were opposed to an ongoing mega dam project.
“We support projects that are good for our community like building of roads, electric and water systems and on farming,” she said.
The Tumandok tribe is known for its rich oral literature that has gained international recognition.
It is considered as the largest indigenous people’s group on Panay Island with members estimated to reach 18,000 individuals.
The Tumandoks are mostly residing inside a 33,000-hectare military reservation in Capiz.
The Tumanduk alliance is composed of a faction of the tribe and is opposing an ongoing P11.2-billion mega dam project in Calinog in Iloilo and a proposed P20-billion multi-purpose mega dam project in Capiz that would displace people in the towns of Tapaz and Jamindan.
The Jalaur River Multipurpose Project 2 is seen as a direct threat to nine villages and eight others indirectly. The project site is inhabited by 581 families, or 2,905 individuals, who tend to at least 1,743 hectares of farm land and had built homes on 489 lots, according to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).
Members of the Tumanduk group are opposing the project because they said it dislocate thousands of residents in 13 villages, including three in Calinog town and one in Lambunao town, and uproot ancestral and burial lands.
But the government has been implementing socio-economic projects and bringing other forms of assistance to areas near the project site.
The indigenous peoples are also raising similar opposition to the planned Panay River Basin Integrated Development Project in Capiz.
The Tumanduk alliance has repeatedly called for the repeal of Presidential Proclamation No. 67, issued in 1962 by then President Diosdado Macapagal, which converted into a military reservation the 33,310-hectare area that the Tumandoks claim as their ancestral domain.
The Capiz provincial board has passed at least three resolutions supporting the
repeal of the proclamation.
The reservation, which covers 16 of the 22 upland villages of Tapaz and seven villages of Jamindan, is considered to be the country’s biggest military camp next to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province. It is home to the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID).
Edited by TSB
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