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Justice sought for 9 slain in Panay raids

TUMANDOK KILLINGS A police officer (right photo) takes a picture of firearms allegedly seized in one of the houses they raided on Dec. 30 in Tapaz town, Capiz province, where nine members of the Tumandok tribe were killed when they allegedly fought against officers serving a search warrant. One of those killed was Roy Giganto (left) shown in this file photo, who is chair
of Tamunduk, an organization opposing a damproject that would displace them from their ancestral land on Panay Island. —PHOTOS FROM KILUSANG MAGBUBUKID NG PILIPINAS/POLICE REGIONAL OFFICE 6

Members of progressive groups on Thursday condemned the Rizal Day killings of nine members of an indigenous community that is opposed to a dam project on Panay Island and demanded justice for the victims of what they called a “massacre.”

The Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives said it would seek a congressional investigation of the predawn raids on Dec. 30 by police and soldiers that led to the deaths of several leaders and members of the Tumandok, the largest ethnic group in the hinterlands of Panay.

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“The year-end spate of killings in Panay is a chilling conclusion of a year marred by bloody attacks on rights defenders and ordinary citizens amid the pandemic,” said Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women party list.

“These butchers in uniform have long been terrorizing communities since time immemorial. Now, under a bloodthirsty Commander in Chief, they have ramped up their efforts to silence the growing number of Filipinos calling for justice and opposing development aggression,” Brosas said.

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She said the Gabriela Women’s Party and her colleagues in the Makabayan bloc would file a resolution to investigate the police and military operation.

The nine people were killed in separate raids in seven hinterland villages in Tapaz town, Capiz province, on Wednesday. One of them was Roy Giganto, chair of Tumanduk nga Mangunguma nga Nagapangapin sang Duta kag Kabuhi (Tumanduk), a former village chief and an incumbent village councilor of Barangay Lahug.

Tumanduk is an alliance of 17 indigenous communities in Tapaz and Jamindan towns in Capiz and Calinog in Iloilo. It is a member of Sandugo, an alliance of indigenous peoples organizations under Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).

NPA rebels?

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police said those killed were New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who fought back when the officers served search warrants and found firearms, ammunition and explosives in their houses.

Police said 16 other villagers in Tapaz and neighboring Calinog were arrested.

Lahug village chief Jobelyn Giganto, Roy’s sister-in-law and neighbor, said policemen barged into his house around 4 a.m. and “dragged his wife out [of the house] and shot him.”

“We are not armed and how can they say he fought back when all of us were asleep when they came,” Jobelyn told the Inquirer by phone on Thursday.

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Another villager who was killed, Eliseo Gayas Jr. of Barangay Aglinab, was reportedly “tortured to the point of vomiting blood prior to his death,” according to Angelo Suarez, coconvener and spokesperson for Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo.

Also killed in Lahug were Mario Aguirre and Reynaldo Katipunan. The other fatalities were Garson Catamin and Rolando Diaz of Nayawan village, Maurito Diaz of Tacayan, Artilito Katipunan of Acuña and Jomar Vidal of Daan-Sur.

Fear on New Year’s Eve

Jobelyn said villagers were afraid to sleep in their own homes and planned to spend New Year’s Eve at the barangay day care center after most of their community and tribe leaders were killed.

“We fear that something will happen again while we are sleeping,” Jobelyn said.

“I have been telling the people here that despite what happened, we should continue to unite and face our situation together,” she said.

According to Danilo Ramos, chair of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, the Tumanduk leaders were fighting against the construction of the multibillion-peso Jalaur megadam in Calinog, Iloilo province, which would submerge their homes and farmlands in their ancestral land.

Some of them were also previously harassed and put under surveillance by the military, and most were accused of being rebels, Ramos said.

A month before the raids, the Tumanduk leaders were told by the military to sign up as NPA surrenderers, said Defend Negros spokesperson Ariel Casilao. When they refused, he said, they were warned that they could be charged under the new antiterrorism law.

‘Killed Negros-style’

“True enough, they were killed Negros-style,” he added, referring to the brutal massacre of farmers in Negros Oriental in 2018 and 2019.

ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro condemned the killing of indigenous peoples who were just protecting their ancestral lands “from destructive projects that do more harm than good for the Filipino people.”

“The Tumandok indigenous community has been vocal in resisting the construction of the Jalaur Mega Dam in Calinog, Iloilo. Because of their resistance and voices of dissent, they have been victims of Red-tagging and now EJKs (extrajudicial killings) and arrests on trumped-up charges,” Castro said.

“The Tumandok massacre proves further how Red-tagging kills and how the Duterte administration is determined to silence all voices of dissent,” she said.

The National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) said the Rizal Day killings showed that the Duterte administration “does not choose any time to sow terror” in rural communities.

“Innocent civilians and indigenous peoples continue to suffer due to the culture of impunity that remains even as the year is about to end,” the group said.

Dam opponents

The activist science group Agham, which helped conduct an environmental investigation of the dam project, demanded justice for the Tumandok and the punishment of state forces for their “heinous crimes.”

The Jalaur River Multipurpose Project Phase II (JRMPP), locally called the Jalaur Dam, was designed to produce hydropower and supply water for irrigation in the province of Iloilo.

Agham said that in partnership with the Jalaur River for the People Movement, it found that the project proponent “failed to establish a detailed geological mapping and subsurface investigations that are crucial in determining the potential natural hazards that will affect the dam, particularly with regards to the stability of the structure and its foundation.”

It said that geologic hazards, such as earthquakes posed dangers to the dam, which may lead to massive flooding.

Agham said there also was no “free and prior informed consent” from the tribe, which is required by law for such projects in ancestral lands.

“Also, risks and possible negative impacts were still not addressed and were not communicated to the stakeholders. These key findings have validated the fears and concerns of the Tumandok people who are valiantly fighting for the protection of the people and the environment,” Agham said.

—With a report from Meg Adonis

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TAGS: Makabayan bloc, Panay Island killings, Rizal Day killings, slain Tumandok
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