Anti-communist tribal leader killed, 1 hurt in Davao Norte
TAGUM CITY, Davao del Norte – A tribal leader in Davao City was killed and his companion wounded when they were ambushed by suspected communist rebels in Panabo City, Davao del Norte, on Wednesday, military authorities said Thursday.
The military has expressed fears the killing of Datu Ruben Labawan could ignite a “pangayaw” (tribal war) between the victims’ families and the perpetrators, even as it questioned the sincerity of the communists in renewing peace talks with the government, said Capt. Rhyan Batchar, spokesperson of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division.
The communists’ armed wing, New People’s Army, has yet to issue a statement regarding the military’s accusation.
Labawan, 49, of Tapak, Paquibato district in Davao City, was riding a motorcycle driven by one Romeo Tanio Escosar, 49, of Gredu Panabo City, when they were attacked by five armed men on three motorcycles along the national highway in Gredu village on Panabo at 4:30 p.m., said Chief Insp. Andrea dela Cerna, spokesperson of the Southern Mindanao Region Police Office.
Labawan was shot multiple times in different parts of the body while Escosar suffered a gunshot wound, Dela Cerna said.
The victims were brought by bystanders to the nearest hospital but Labawan was declared dead upon arrival by attending physicians, the police spokesperson said.
Police recovered five spent shells and three slugs from bullets of a .45-caliber pistol at the crime scene.
The slain tribal chieftain was the head of the Supreme Tribal Council for Peace and Development (STCPD), a staunch anti-communist ally of the military.
He had been a target in several attacks by suspected NPA rebels, recent of which was in August 2010, when two soldiers were killed.
The victims, according to Batchar, were on their way to Paquibato after attending a consultation and forum between tribal leaders and representatives of several government agencies for the planned implementation of an agriculture project for the lumad, called the Slope Agriculture Land Technology (SALT) in hinterland villages in Davao City and Davao del Norte.
Col. Ricardo Nepomuceno, commander of the Army’s 1003rd Infantry Brigade, which has jurisdiction over Davao City and Davao del Norte, condemned the attack, calling it “treacherous.”
“He is concerned about the possibility of pangayaw. The victims’ families might wage reprisals against the (suspects) and the latter’s families,” Batchar said of Nepomuceno’s worries.
Maj. General Rafael Valencia, 10th Infantry Division commander, expressed sorrow over the killing, calling Labawan an “active worker” with the government “in identifying programs which could alleviate the socio-economic condition of our lumad brothers and sisters in Davao City.”
Military and police troops have launched pursuit operations against the perpetrators, said Batchar.
The head of the Southern Mindanao Region Police Office has ordered the creation of a special investigation task group to probe the killing.
Chief Supt. Manuel Gaerlan, the Southern Mindanao police chief, has directed Senior Supt. Ferdinand Sifuentes, acting Davao del Norte police head, to form the special investigation group and exert maximum effort to solve the case and file appropriate charges against the perpetrators, Chief Insp. Andrea dela Cerna, the regional police spokesperson, said. SFM
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.