PNP to probe for lapses in police killing of 9 members of Panay IP community
ILOILO CITY—Although claiming that the operation was legitimate and successful, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said it was investigating if there were lapses in a raid in Panay that led to the killing by police of nine leaders and members of an indigenous people’s (IP) group.
At a press conference here on Monday (Jan. 4), Col. Roger James Brillantes said the PNP was conducting a motu propio (on its own initiative) investigation.
Brillantes, head of the PNP regional office’s Internal Affairs Service (IAS), said investigators were waiting for reports and documents from the regional office of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), which led the raid, to help in the investigation.
The investigation, he said, would determine if any of those involved in the raid could be held liable for the deaths of the indigenous people.
Lt. Col. Gervacio Balmaceda, chief of the CIDG in Western Visayas, said the raid was legitimate as it was launched to serve at least 28 search warrants but nine police teams involved in the operation would be subject to investigation.
“The subjects posed danger to the implementing teams,” said Balmaceda. “They have firearms and they fired first,” he said.
Col. Ross Alvarado, deputy Western Visayas police director for operations, said one policeman involved in the raid, Archie Puga, was shot but unharmed because he wore a bullet-proof vest when his team was serving a search warrant on the house of Artilio Katipunan, one of the nine killed during the raid.
A 9 mm bullet was also found in the house of Roy Giganto, an IP leader who was also killed.
Giganto was a former village captain and incumbent village council member of Lahug. He was also chair of the Tumanduk, an alliance of 17 communities of the Tumandok or Panay-Bukidnon IP group.
Also killed were Lahug village council members Reynaldo Katipunan and Mario Aguirre and Garson Catamin, chief of Nayawan village.
Giganto’s wife, Analyn, sought to dispute the statements of the police officials.
Speaking at the Tapaz Civic Center, where more than 300 residents of Lahug had evacuated, Analyn told an online press conference organized by farmers and IP groups that her husband was unarmed and was pleading for his life before he was shot by policemen.
“He shouted ‘tabang (help)’ three times when they forced me and our one-year-old child out of our house and ordered us to lie face down on the ground. I then heard several shots,” Analyn said.
Other relatives of those killed and arrested and village officials have also disputed the claims of police that they were hiding firearms and explosives in their homes and that those killed fought back.
But these did not stop the government’s counterinsurgency task force from declaring the operation a success against communist rebels, saying Tapaz was the “center of gravity” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) in Panay.
Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) which has a funding of at least P16 billion, said at the press conference in Iloilo City that the police operation was “groundbreaking.” She congratulated those involved in the police operation.
The NTF-Elcac had organized a “peace summit” in Tapaz last Dec. 11, 20 days before the deadly police operation that also resulted in the arrest of 16 leaders and members of Tumandok or the Panay-Bukidnon or Sulodnon indigenous people’s group.
Academicians, researchers, artists, writers and other cultural workers have called for an independent investigation and raised concern over the impact of the violence on the tribe.
“As concerned members of the academe, we uphold Tumandok collective rights and stand side-by-side with their undeniable humanity,” said a statement signed by more than 40 faculty members, cultural workers, artists and indigenous people’s rights advocates.
“We are enraged by this cruel pre-New Year mowing of rights and lives! We add our voices to the growing call for the impartial and independent investigation,” the statement said.
In a separate statement, IP professionals, academic scholars, researchers, and cultural workers belonging to the Panay Indigenous Culture Advocacy Group raised concern over the safety and wellbeing of the IP group that was attacked.
“The loss of a maaram (learned) culture bearer is irreplaceable,” said the other statement.
“Amidst being scared for the loss of more lives, the scholars are disturbed by the trauma that the recent events have brought to the children, women, and respected magurang—the elder members of the community who are the cultural bearers and keepers of indigenous traditions,” the group said.
“Their communities have made Panay a repository of rich traditional culture which is unequalled in other parts of the world,” it said.
Among these, the group said, were sugidanon, or epics of Panay, binanog dancing and panubok, or indigenous embroidery.
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