Police seek Army’s help in arresting suspects in lumad slays
TAGUM CITY, Davao del Norte, Philippines – Police in the Caraga Region have admitted they have not caught anybody from the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani, which has been tagged in the killing of three people in a lumad (indigenous peoples) community in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, on Sept. 1.
The killings also forced over 4,000 villagers from five towns to flee their homes two months ago.
Supt. Martin Gamba, Caraga region police spokesperson, said they have asked the help of the military and village residents to help police authorities hunt down members of the Magahat-Bagani, an anti-communist militia composed of Manobo tribesmen.
“It’s difficult to hunt these suspects down because they operate in a vast mountainous area which encompasses several municipalities and where NPA (New People’s Army) guerrillas also roam,” Gamba told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by mobile phone on Monday.
He said they asked for the assistance of the military for its familiarity with the terrain and for having the necessary manpower and logistics for the mission.
Of the dozens of armed Magahat-Bagani militiamen who swooped down on Sitio (Sub-village) Han-ayan, Diatagon village, in Lianga last Sept. 1, three suspects have already been identified and arrest warrants have been issued by a local court against them, namely, Bobby and Loloy Tejero and Garito Layno. The others remained unidentified.
“We’ve asked the DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government) to put a bounty on the head of the three identified suspects so people would help in providing information leading to the suspects’ arrest,” Gamba said.
The police spokesperson said they could not set a timetable for the suspects’ arrest considering the vast area security forces must search through to locate and apprehend the gunmen.
The Magahat-Bagani holes up deep into the Andap Valley complex, a mountainous region straddling the municipalities of Lianga, San Miguel and Marihatag, according to Gamba.
Compounding the difficulty, he said, has been the presence of an NPA front there, which can result in armed encounters.
He said the operation was being carried out by the entire Surigao del Sur police backed by troops from the Philippine Army.
“Our policemen can only operate up to five days deep in the complex, and have come down to the urban areas to resupply while these militiamen are highly mobile,” Gamba said.
Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel has complained of alleged government inaction in arresting the suspects.
“It has been two months and still no arrest has been made,” he told the Inquirer in an interview in Tandag City where almost 3,000 evacuees are staying at the provincial sports complex.
At least 1,000 more evacuees are staying at the municipal gym in Marihatag town.
Pimentel described as “doable” the demands of the evacuees for the police and military to arrest the suspects and disband the paramilitary groups.
“If they (police and military) have the will, they can do it,” he said.
The governor earlier said the paramilitary group was created, trained, armed and funded by the military, and allegation that the military denied.
Pimentel said it has been two months since the killing since the Senate held a hearing in Tandag City, and yet no arrest has been made.
Senators Teofisto Guingona and Aquilino Pimentel Jr. on Oct. 1 held a two-day hearing on the lumad killings. At the hearing, both military and police promised to work for arrest of the suspects.
On Sept. 1, members of the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani arrived in Sitio Han-ayan in Diatago village, gathered its residents and killed lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Bello Sinzo. The paramilitary group also killed Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Livelihood and Development, a secondary school catering to lumad students. SFM
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