Army blames NPA for killing of school chief, 2 Manobos in Surigao Sur
The military on Monday said communist guerrillas of the New People’s Army could be the ones who killed a school director and two Manobo tribesmen in the town of Lianga, Surigao del Sur last September 1.
“There is a possibility. However, it is best for us to wait for the result of the investigation of the Philippine National Police,” said Capt. Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division.
Martinez, in a phone interview, said the military has immediately sent in additional government forces to secure the area and to go after the perpetrators.
Earlier, residents and Surigao del Sur governor Johnny Pimentel said that the village of Diatagon in Lianga town was attacked by an anti-communist paramilitary group called Magahat-Bagani force.
But Martinez claimed that instead of the paramilitary group, government soldiers who went to the area on September 3 clashed with New People’s Army rebels.
Martinez said the fighting lasted for 15 minutes until the rebels retreated, leaving behind an AK47 rifle, two backpacks and personal belongings.
“Some of the residents saw the NPA carrying their wounded comrades,” Martinez said.
The entire village has become a ghost town since September 1.
At least 2,000 residents from the village of Diatagon fled their homes after the Magahat-Bagani killed Emerico Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev). Samarca was found hogtied with a stab wound and his throat slit open inside a classroom.
Alcadev is a privately operated but government-regulated learning institution that provides basic and technical education to lumad children in communities rarely reached by government services.
The paramilitary also killed Dionel Campos and his cousin Aurelio Sinzo in front of the villagers. Campos was a community leader and the chairperson of the indigenous people group Maluhutayong Pakigbisog Alansa sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), which is known for its firm position on the protection of ancestral lands and its campaign against human rights violations targeting indigenous people.
The Magahat-Bagani also burned the building of a community cooperative not far from the school compound.
Pimentel disclosed that the Magahat-Bagani force, composed of about 30 ragtag heavily armed men, has been a persisting security problem in the province that left scores of people dead.
Martinez said they knew about the existence of the Bagani but did nothing about it out of respect for a “legitimate component of a tribe.”
“They (Bagani warriors) were already here even before the military came in. They are armed with their traditional weapons,” Martinez said, adding that their right as tribal warriors would stop if they bore firearms.
The provincial government said that the Bagani has been launching attacks and engaging in criminal activities since 2009.
Pimentel said that he has been consistent in requesting the military to disband and disarm the group but his appeals have fallen on deaf ears.
Martinez, however, said the military could act on it if the proper charges were filed.
Pimentel was certain that it was the paramilitary group who led the attack under the command of the military and that they should be disbanded immediately.
“The residents said that after the armed men killed the victims, two of them removed their bonnets and said that now the community knows who did it. The villagers said they know the men as the leaders of the Magahat and identified them as Bob and Loloy Tejero,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel added that these men used to be rebels who were trained and armed by the military for its counterinsurgency campaign.
“These people have relatives in the area. They live in Kilometer 9. They are former NPA rebels who were recruited by the military for the Bagani,” Pimentel said.
Aside from the ongoing anti-communist witch hunt, lumad groups said the reason behind the attacks was the intent of the military and private companies to demolish the opposition of the tribes against mining and logging.
Martinez has vowed that justice will be served and that the military will go after the perpetrators.
“How will they do that? Will the military go after its own men?” asked Karapatan-Caraga secretary general Eliza Pangilinan. Karlos Manlupig
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