Key witness in Tumandok killings in Capiz shot dead
ILOILO CITY, Iloilo, Philippines — Slain village chief Julie Catamin was supposed to be a key witness in the defense of Tumandok tribe members who were arrested and gunned down in the Dec. 30 police operation in Capiz and Iloilo provinces.
“[Catamin] was a star witness because [Catamin was] brave and very vocal that the firearms and explosives were planted,” Msgr. Meliton Oso, executive director of the Jaro Archdiocese Social Action Center, told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.
Oso said the killing of Catamin “sends a strong and loud message that what happened to [them] will happen to those who will speak the truth.”
Motorcycle-riding gunmen shot dead Catamin in Calinog town of Iloilo on Sunday, two months after nine tribal leaders of the Tumandok indigenous people’s group were gunned down in a police operation.
Catamin, 49, village chief of Roosevelt in Tapaz, was driving a motorcycle on their way home around 8:45 a.m. when two assailants wearing helmets onboard a black motorcycle repeatedly fired at them at Barangay Malitbog Centro of Calinog, which adjoins Tapaz. Four .45-caliber empty shells were found at the crime scene, the Calinog police said.
In a statement, the Philippine in National Police in Western Visayas claimed the New People’s Army could be behind the killing of Catamin, as the village chief had reportedly been receiving death threats from communist rebels.
The Army’s 301st Brigade, in a separate statement, condemned the killing of Catamin, calling the village chief an “ally” and “peace advocate” who brought peace to their barangay.
To silenceBut the farmers federation Pamanggas accused state forces of being behind the attack.
“[Catamin’s killing] is meant to silence [them] and sow fear among residents to stop them from telling the truth on the killing of nine Tumandok leaders and the arrest of 16 others,” Pamanggas said in a statement.
In a post on Catamin’s Facebook page on Dec. 30, Catamin accused policemen who arrested four residents of their village of planting firearms and explosives.
“They were arrested and handcuffed. Bullets and firearms were planted and their houses were destroyed. Where is justice? I am appealing for help from any government agency that can help me,” Catamin said in his post.
Nine tribal leaders died when police operatives served search warrants for firearms and explosives in two villages in Calinog and six villages in Tapaz. Police and military officials claimed the nine died after they fired at policemen. They also accused those who died and were arrested as leaders or supporters of the communist movement, accusations that were belied by the victims’ families.
The Jaro Archdiocese has provided two teams of lawyers to assist the families of those who were arrested. INQ
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.