Militia attack revives ‘pangayaw’ fear
THREE months pregnant and still cradling her firstborn only a few months old, Makinit Gayoran had no inkling that the merrymaking after the tribal wedding she was attending in San Fernando town in Bukidnon province would be a target of attack by anticommunist militiamen that day.
Gayoran succumbed to a bullet wound in the chest and seven others, five of them children, were wounded as the gunmen from atop a hill strafed at the house in a Tigwahanon community in Sitio Tibugawan, Barangay Kawayan, on July 30, police officials said.
At least 48 terror-stricken families fled the community and are camping out at the provincial capitol grounds in Malaybalay City. They appealed to Bukidnon Gov. Jose Maria Zubiri Jr. for help as the perpetrators are still at large.
The governor’s office has yet to issue a statement.
Heavy NPA presence
Police have tagged Kawayan as one of the areas in Bukidnon with a heavy presence of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.
The shooting happened hours before President Duterte lifted his unilateral ceasefire with the communists after the National Democratic Front of the Philippines failed to meet his deadline for the group to reciprocate his declaration.
Supt. Surki Sereñas, regional police spokesperson, said the attack could to be part of the “pangayaw” (tribal war), launched allegedly by Aldie “Butsoy” Salusad of the New Indigenous People’s Army for Reform against other “lumad” or NPA sympathizers.
“Datu Cris Linsagan, municipal tribal chieftain, made initial move so that the problem will not escalate,” Sereñas said in a text message, adding that “the Army is on standby if needed.”
Citing witnesses, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) in northern Mindanao said the attackers were led by Salusad’s group. The religious group runs a school in Kawayan.
Salusad was said to be searching for Datu Jimboy Mandagit, whom he suspected of being an NPA member, and threatened to kill everyone in Tibugawan if he could not find his target.
“Datu Jimboy was one of the leaders who accompanied the Tigwahanon families that evacuated to Haran compound in Davao City a year ago after intensive military operations in their communities,” RMP said.
Mandagit said he was hoping Zubiri would listen to the plea of those displaced by the shooting and not to other lumad leaders who want the case settled amicably under the traditional justice system. Salusad, under that system, must turn over his firearms and live with the tribal leader until an amicable agreement is reached.
“We don’t want an amicable settlement with Butsoy. What we want is for him to be arrested and face the charges against him in court. He should be held accountable for what he did,” Mandagit told the Inquirer by phone.
Datu Jomorito Goaynon, chair of the lumad group Kalumbay, said that “knowing Salusad’s personality, there is no assurance he would surrender.” He had called on tribal leaders to give law enforcers the power to arrest the suspect.
Provincial police officials said they had suspended operations to locate the militia leader to give tribal leaders time to subject him to the traditional justice system.
Senior Insp. Danielo Bellezas, chief of police community relations office in Bukidnon, said the lumad leaders had asked authorities to stand down to avoid more bloodshed.
They proposed a dialogue to prevent retaliation from the families of the aggrieved persons, he said.
“They want to resolve the killing using their traditional method hoping an agreement could be reached,” Bellezas said in an interview on Monday. He was referring to an appeal by Datu Cris Linsagan, tribal chieftain in San Fernando.
Salusad has yet to be brought to court for the 2012 killing of Jimmy Liguyon, the barangay chair of Dao in San Fernando, community leaders Balangas Anlamit and Mabini Manobia, and others.
“They (tribal leaders) did not even act on those killings. How could they compel Butsoy to yield to them? Until now there is still no justice for Jimmy and the others,” Mandagit said.
He said the conflict started when Salusad began harassing the residents in Kawayan to protect mining interests. The paramilitary group are allegedly controlling the trade of small-scale gold mining in Barangays Dao and Kiranggol in San Fernando, RMP said.
Goaynon said the tribal leaders and local government officials had failed to convince him to surrender and hand over his guns.
Recounting the gun attack, RMP said Salusad and his men were positioned atop a hill. “They fired at the entire community but concentrated on the house where 80 individuals were gathered for the wedding,” it said.
Hours before the shooting, Datu Arnold Manhura, tribal representative in Kawayan, saw Salusad and noticed that he was geared for war, the group said.
“Salusad was fully armed. At least 11 other armed men were with him,” RMP said.
Mangura reportedly asked Salusad not to proceed to the community as his presence might disturb the celebration. “Salusad went on and in just a few minutes indiscriminately fired at the community,” RMP said.
“The community calls for justice against the uncalled for violence,” it said.
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