‘Lumad’ witnesses tag killers of educator
Witnesses in the razing of a “lumad” (indigenous) community in Lianga, Surigao del Sur province, and in the killings of educator Emerito Samarca and local leaders Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo, placed the crimes squarely on a paramilitary group conducting a witch-hunt for communist leaders and sympathizers.
When members of the Magahat-Bagani group raided homes and an alternative school and rounded up residents of Sitio Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon, in Lianga before dawn on Sept. 1, they were accusing the community members of being supporters of the communist New People’s Army (NPA), the witnesses said.
At least two of the perpetrators have been identified as brothers Bobby and Loloy Tejero, middle-aged residents of Barangay San Isidro in Lianga. Their alleged leader is a certain Marcos Bocales.
“We know them. They are our relatives. Loloy and Bobby are nephews of my mother,” Diatagon resident Eufemia Cullamat, 55, said in a roundtable discussion with select journalists on Monday in Quezon City.
Cullamat is a cousin of Campos, 41, a community leader and chair of Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alansa sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), and a niece of Sinzo, 69. She is one of those who saw their deaths in the basketball court on Kilometer 16 road where the residents were rounded up by the Magahat-Bagani.
Like her slain relatives, Cullamat is a leader of Mapasu, a local advocacy group of indigenous people. She is among six witnesses from Han-ayan who are currently in Metro Manila and hosted by the militant human rights group Karapatan to bring the brazen crimes to national attention and to seek justice.
The woman said her family, including Sinzo, was holding a wake in Han-ayan for her recently deceased father when masked members of the Magahat-Bagani barged into the house before dawn and asked them to get out because they were “looking for someone.”
The residents were herded to a basketball court on Kilometer 16, a kilometer away from the sitio. The men, women and children were grouped into two, while Campos was told to sit on a bench.
Speaker with soft voice
“They said it was a dialogue. There was only one speaker, with a soft voice. He said: ‘Don’t support the NPA anymore. We’re here to destroy [your community] because you have a strong support for the NPA,’” Cullamat said in Filipino.
The speaker, who removed his bonnet, was recognized by the residents as Bobby Tejero, Cullamat said, and his brother, Loloy, was the one who kept circling the residents.
Cullamat recalled that another gunman turned to Sinzo and demanded to know why he was in the area when he was the tribal chieftain (datu) of Sitio Kiwagan in Barangay San Isidro.
“They asked him, ‘Datu, how much revolutionary tax have you collected? Do you all promise to no longer support the NPA?’ Sinzo answered: ‘I do not control their hearts,’” she said.
This was when Sinzo was yanked away from the residents for a beating, while a rifle was pointed at Campos. When the people reacted and told the militiamen to stop, they were yelled at to stay down (“dapa”). Cullamat said.
As the residents complied, the Magahat-Bagani started firing, she said. After the shooting, Campos and Sinzo lay dead from gunshot wounds—Campos with the back of his head blown off. The militiamen fled after the shooting.
Cullamat said the people returned to their homes to find a local cooperative burnt down.
When Han-ayan was raided, a local high school with a dormitory—Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev)—was not spared. This was where Samarca, 54, Alcadev executive director, was brutally killed.
A volunteer teacher, Gary Payac, 30, recalled that it was around 5 a.m. when he heard heavy knocking on the door, punctuated by shouts ordering everyone inside to get out.
“When I opened the door, it was the Magahat,” Payac said in Filipino. He said the paramilitary ordered the staff and the students to get out, then ransacked the dormitory and took their gadgets and money.
One school staff member tried to go up to Samarca’s room on the second floor to fetch him, but was struck with a gun by the intruders, Payac said. Samarca intervened, introducing himself as the school’s executive director.
The paramilitary left the school employee to join the others outside, as they herded Samarca back into the guest room.
The staff and students were also brought to the basketball court on Kilometer 16. It was only hours later, when the militiamen left after the killing of Campos and Sinzo, that they were able to go back to the school, only to find it burning.
Once the flames were put out, they discovered Samarca dead, tied up, bearing stab wounds and his throat slit, Payac said.
“I couldn’t believe it. I thought this happened only in the movies. People were killed in front of me,” Payac said.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said postmortem reports showed Samarca had bullet wounds in the body.
Following the incident, community members gathered up their dead and fled to a sports complex in Tandag City, where they have been staying since.
Another witness to the Kilometer 16 killings, Jose Campos, cousin of Dionel and nephew of Sinzo, said that days before the Magahat-Bagani raid, the militiamen had already warned the community that if they did not evacuate within three days, they would “massacre” the residents.
“The reason they keep militarizing the area is because they allege [the villagers] to be supporters of the NPA,” Jose Campos said in Cebuano. While he admitted that rebels would pass through their village, the residents “never gave guns or any resources to the NPA.”
Alcadev was not spared from the red-tagging. Fifteen-year-old Alcadev student Michael John Pagalan firmly denied allegations that their school had communist leanings.
“The school helps the community. All the allegations—like that we are taught to disarm—I have been a student for three years, there is nothing like that,” Pagalan said in Cebuano.
Pagalan said agriculture was the main subject in school, but that the students were also taught the traditional subjects—math, history, values education, Filipino, English, science.
“Now, we’re all frightened to go back because we may be massacred, too. It’s very painful to have to stop our studies. We all dream of finishing schooling so we can help our community,” Pagalan said.
The Magahat-Bagani’s red-tagging is one of the reasons the community thinks it was being sanctioned by the Philippine Army.
Cullamat noted that two days before the raid, soldiers dropped by their community looking for some local leaders. She said she and her relatives deferred speaking with them as they were attending to her father’s wake.
The soldiers stayed on in the community, then later camped out on higher grounds.
Cullamat wondered how the soldiers failed to respond to the paramilitary raid. “We think the [Army] just stood by and looked when the paramilitary [members] were attacking us. It shows that there really is a connivance,” she said.
Another witness, Imelda Belandres, 47, also a Mapasu member, said the Magahat-Bagani leader had links with an Army colonel who armed the militia group.
Belandres said the Tejeros were also known to have their own “detachment” with the military two hours away from Han-ayan in Surigao del Sur.
Army officials have denied that the Magahat-Bagani is operating under their auspices.
In Davao City, the military on Monday said communist guerrillas could be the ones who killed the school director and two Manobo tribesmen.
“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 for the Army’s 4th Infantry Division.
Martinez, in a phone interview, said the military had immediately sent more government forces to secure the area and to go after the perpetrators.
Palabay said criminal complaints against the perpetrators were already being prepared.
Cullamat appealed to the police pursuing the suspects and investigating the killings: “Please continue the investigation until the perpetrators are caught. That would be a strong message that they (Magahat-Bagani) need to be disarmed.” With a report from Karlos Manlupig, Inquirer Mindanao