1,700 Manobos flee homes in Surigao del Sur due to killings, arson
DAVAO CITY, Philippines – More than 1,700 Manobo residents fled their homes in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, after their communities were hit by a series of killings, gun attacks and school-and-house burning.
On Oct. 24, Manobo leader Henry Alameda had just finished eating his breakfast inside their house in Sitio Kabalawan, Barangay San Isidro in Lianga town when armed men barged in and dragged him outside.
The armed men, who were allegedly government soldiers and members of a tribal paramilitary group called Bagani led by Datu Calpet Egua, tried to bring him towards the forest but Alameda grabbed a post of the nearby waiting shed as his wife and children cried for help.
Alameda was a council member of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang Sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), an inter-municipal Lumad organization in Surigao del Sur and has been vocal against the entry of mining corporations in the Andap Valley complex.
The tribal leader has also campaigned against military operations in ancestral lands and against the pork barrel system.
At around 4 p.m. in the nearby town of Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur, shots were fired at the house of Alejandro Dumaguit, the chief of Barangay (village) San Lorenzo.
Dumaguit was hit in his shoulder while his two children also sustained gunshot wounds in the hail of bullets. His son, Aldren, died after trying to save his father and sister.
The armed men also fired at the nearby houses hitting Aldredo Undayon, Victor Undayon and minors only identified as Enggoy and Lynlyn.
Two hours later, military forces and members of the Bagani were also reportedly seen near the house of Genasque Enriquez, the secretary general of the tribal group, Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon-Caraga.
Human rights group Karapatan said that a day before the series of attacks, Marcos Bocales, the former commander of the paramilitary group Task Force Gantangan and the present right hand man of Egua, sent text messages and called leaders of MAPASU telling them that the time has come for him to “put holes in the chests” of the tribal leaders.
The recent incidents caused the massive displacement of at least 1,700 indigenous people and farmers from the towns of Lianga and Prosperidad who are presently seeking temporary shelter in a gymnasium in Barangay Diatagon.
Dr. Naty Castro, secretary general of Karapatan-Caraga, also accused the military and the Bagani of burning homes and schools in their path.
A school building with two classrooms of the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) was razed in Sitio Kabalawan while another building with three classrooms was damaged by fire in Sitio Kabuluhan.
“We are still trying to assess the damage but presently we have identified more or less five houses, which were destroyed or damaged either in the fire or during the strafing,” Castro said.
In an emailed statement, Enriquez, who has been hiding because of threats to his life, lambasted the 29th Infantry Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Battalion, 2nd Scout Rangers Battalion for the alleged human rights violations and demanded the immediate pull-out of the troops in their communities.
Accusing the military of training and funding the Bagani to sow terror in tribal villages, the group also demanded that Egua and his paramilitary group be immediately disbanded and be arrested for their involvement in the recent attacks.
Capt. Jasper Gacayan, spokesman of the military 401st Brigade, confirmed ongoing military operations in the area against communist guerrillas but he denied that they were involved in the attacks and asserted that the soldiers were far from civilian communities.
“It is true that these incidents happened but our soldiers are not involved in these activities. According to witnesses, the perpetrators were wearing uniform but there are no patches. It will be very impossible for soldiers to do these things,” Gacayan said.
Gacayan said the soldiers have been careful not to commit human-rights violations in observance of the Army transformation roadmap that sought to bring the military closer to the people.
“The military is adhering to the International Humanitarian Law. If any witness can help identify the perpetrators we are willing to help,” Gacayan said.
Gacayan also confirmed the existence of the Bagani but said it was not a paramilitary unit but a group of tribal warriors formed by Egua as to defend their area.
The military spokesman also said that there were instances where they reinforced the Baganis. He cited the time when the New People’s Army attacked Egua’s group in July this year resulting in massive communist casualties.
“We backed the Bagani up because they are also victims of human rights violations and it is our mandate to protect communities from violence,” Gacayan said.
The National Democratic Front earlier tagged Egua’s group as a private army used by both the military and private companies to protect logging and mining operations in the area.
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