MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/19 May) – As of May 18, residents of Barangay Dao in San Fernando town, Bukidnon are still encamping the capitol grounds in this city. Their number seems to have grown, as I saw more tents when I passed by the capitol from the bus terminal. And there is no telling when and if they can return to their homes.
It has been two months since the evacuees, most of them Manobos, arrived at the capitol for fear of becoming the next victims of a paramilitary group called New Indigenous People’s Army Reform (Nipar) led by a fellow Lumad named Aldy “Butsoy” Salusad.
A former New People’s Army rebel who surrendered in 2010, Salusad is the primary suspect in the killing on March 5 of Dao village chief Jimmy Liguyon, a tribal leader who had opposed the mining application of the San Fernando Manobo Tribal Datus Association (Sanmatrida).
Salusad’s father, Benjamin “Nonong” Salusad, is a member of Sanmatrida. Like his son, the elder Salusad was a rebel who surrendered last year. He is now a government militiaman under the 403rd Infantry Brigade.
Provincial officials have asked the evacuees to return to Dao. But the latter said they will only go back home once Butsoy is placed behind bars. Court records showed that the suspect and his father have pending warrants of arrest even before Liguyon’s murder, to which Butsoy categorically admitted in an interview with dxDB. Police have offered no satisfactory explanation why they have not been arrested.
Maybe Butsoy’s admission can explain why the police and civil authorities appear inutile against him and his group. He is confident the arm of the law cannot touch him for reasons the people of Dao may have known but are afraid to say. These reasons may be found in the local social and economic context that led to Liguyon’s death.
Outsiders have coveted Dao for its gold deposits. Small-scale mining activities by locals have resumed after these were stopped in the early 1990s. But Sanmatrida, big mining firms – and they said some politicians too – are all aiming to take control of this industry.
Further complicating the situation is the presence of armed groups of all shades – NPA, bandits, state-backed paramilitaries, and of course, the military. With so much at stake, it has become a necessity for capitalists – or their dummies – to enlist the support of any of these groups.
There were locals however who wanted to put a stop to the mining activities in Dao. Among them was Liguyon. His stand put him at odds with Sanmatrida which, aside from having applied for a mining permit, has included Dao in its ancestral domain claim.
Moreover, Liguyon’s involvement in progressive groups made him a target of Nipar’s rightist politics. Butsoy in particular saw this as an opportunity to eliminate a stumbling block to his group’s objective of controlling gold mining in Dao. In publicly owning up to the crime, Butsoy cited as reason the victim’s participation in protest rallies, although Liguyon’s family members and supporters maintained it was his anti-mining stance that caused him his life.
Yet, no matter what the reasons are, authorities should have exerted serious efforts in going after Butsoy and his accomplices. After all, he has pending warrants and has admitted to the crime.
But why have provincial and town officials not pushed for his arrest? Are they, as Neil Young lamented in one of his songs, “helpless, helpless, helpless?” And against whom? (H. Marcos C. Mordeno writes mainly on the environment, human rights and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)