Tumandok in Capiz flee homes after killings
ILOILO CITY, Iloilo, Philippines — Residents of a village in Tapaz town of Capiz province where leaders of an indigenous people’s (IP) group were gunned down or arrested in a police operation have left their homes for fear of more operations by state forces.
Church leaders and IPs’ groups are also calling for an investigation on the killing and the arrest of 16 others of the Tumandok or Panay-Bukidnon tribe in a coordinated police operation in Panay on Wednesday.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Western Visayas has started its own investigation amid an outcry from the community and family members of those who died and were arrested.
“We are saddened by the simultaneous killings that happened early morning of Dec. 30, 2020, in the upland barangays of Tapaz, Capiz, and Calinog, Iloilo,” according to a statement of the Capiz Archdiocesan Social Action Center (Casac).
The Casac cited initial reports that those who died were alleged members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing New People’s Army (NPA).
In Barangay Lahug in Tapaz, members of about 78 households left their homes and evacuated to the town proper, about 8 kilometers away or a four-hour walk, according to the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Panay.
Residents, including women and children, brought their belongings while other residents who were left behind are staying at barangay’s daycare center since New Year’s Eve.
In an earlier interview, Lahug village chief Jobelyn Giganto said they were afraid of sleeping in their homes after three village officials were shot dead and another arrested by policemen at dawn on Wednesday.
“We do not feel safe because they came in the night when we were asleep and we could not do anything but hide,” she said.
The International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation, a global network of Indigenous Peoples rights activists, advocates and organizations, said those killed were among those who resisted the building of megadam projects in Iloilo and Capiz due to the impact on their ancestral and agricultural land.
Those killed and arrested were also leaders of the Tumanduk organization, an alliance of 17 indigenous people’s communities in Capiz and Iloilo provinces.
The Tumandok have a rich oral tradition that records their legends, epics and events in their community. The sugidanon (epics chanted in the archaic Panay language called the dagil or ligbok) tells the story and exploits of their heroes, like Labaw Dunggon and Humadapnon.
Their rich oral literature is also expressed in the dilot (love songs), talda (repartee) and ulawhay (chanted narrative).
Anthropologists have recorded nine epics chanted for at least 162 hours. The epics, according to studies, provide insights into the history, psyche and culture of the prehispanic Panay Bisayan.
But the Tumanduk organization has repeatedly been accused by the military and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict as a rebel front with members supporting or part of the CPP and NPA.
No room for fearmonger
“As we recognize the importance of peace especially during this time of pandemic and within the Octave of Christmas, this incident raises our concern and, thus, (we) vehemently condemn this act of violence. In this time of calmness, there should be no room for the cultivation of fear and impunity,” according to the Casac statement.
“We remain hopeful in the spirit of justice. Hence, we call on the (authorities) for (an) immediate investigation and action and show us the genuine results founded on truth and justice,” it said.
“We extend our deepest sympathy to the bereaved families of the victims. We assure you of our prayers that God will soothe away in time the hurt and grant them eternal rest in His paradise.”
A pastoral letter is expected to be issued later on the incident.In a statement issued on Wednesday, San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza also decried the killing of members of the Tumandok or Panay-Bukidnon tribe.
“Do we have to kill our perceived ‘enemies’—especially if they are unarmed? Is this the way we celebrate Christmas as a Christian country about to welcome the New Year and 500 Years of Christianity? Can we consider this a great accomplishment that (nine) Tumandok—red-tagged—were killed today?” he said.
Alminaza, whose diocese has also experienced continued killings of those accused of being NPA supporters, called for an end to the violence.
“How long will this spiral of violence continue? Have we run out of peaceful means? Are we that desperate? Do we really, seriously believe this is the effective and lasting way to solve our social ills?” he said.
The Philippine National Police in Western Visayas insisted that the subjects of the warrants were members of the CPP. The nine tribesmen died because they fought back against members of the operating team, which was led by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, it said.
In a statement, Police Brig. Gen. Rolando Miranda, Western Visayas police director, said the implementation of 28 search warrants stemmed from complaints in the areas of personalities who were in possession of firearms and explosives.
“The service of the search warrants became a bloody encounter when the other subjects put up a fight against the operatives,” according to the statement.
Aside from those killed and arrested, three more subjects of the search warrants were at large.
The PNP regional office said that among those recovered from the house of those arrested and killed were 26 caliber .45-caliber pistols, 26 rifle grenades, 12 hand grenades, an improvised gun, seven improvised/homemade 12-gauge shotguns, a .38-caliber revolver, a 9-mm submachine gun, two air rifles, flare, and assorted magazines and ammunition, and bandoliers.
At least 19 complaints for illegal possession of explosives and illegal possession of firearms have also been filed before the provincial prosecutor’s office of Iloilo and Capiz.
Lawyer Jonnie Dabuco, CHR Western Visayas director, said they started their own investigation on the operation to determine if extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations were committed.
“We are gathering documents from our police offices, interviewing families of those who died and arrested. Obviously, their statements contradict with the official accounts of the PNP so we are gathering as much information and evidence as we can,” Dabuco told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.
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