GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/23 October) — The two children who survived an alleged massacre last week in a village in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur, including their grandmother and two aunts, were reportedly prevented from going to the residence of Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez and were instead brought to the Kiblawan social welfare office, in what is now shaping into a battle over their custody between the government and human rights workers who fear a whitewash and cover-up over the incident.
Juvy Capion, 27, and her two children, Jordan and John Mark were killed in what the military insisted was an encounter last October 18 in Sitio Datal-Alyong of Kimlawis, Kiblawan.
The military said elements of the 27th Infantry Battalion led by Lt. Dante Jimenez engaged armed men led by Daguil Capion, Juvy’s husband who is leading a group of B’laans opposed to the entry of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) in their area.
Four-year-old Becky Capion (earlier named as Vicky), who was grazed by a bullet on her left ear in a volley of fire that killed her mother and two siblings, and Ressa Piang were on board a habal-habal (single passenger motorcycle) along with grandmother Diya Capion and aunts Sabelin and Rosita when they were flagged down by Josephine Malid in Barangay Danlag in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
Becky Capion and Piang were the lone witnesses who could shed light to the killings.
Malid, who works for the SMI-supported Tribal Foundation, reportedly led the Capions to a white pickup truck allegedly owned by the mining firm and brought them to the Tampakan municipal social welfare office. But they were turned away as there was no prior coordination, according to Rene Pamplona of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel.
Maj. Joel Wayagwag however allegedly told Malid to instead bring the Capions to Kiblawan for medical attention.
Wayagwag is the head of the Philippine Army’s Task Force Kitaco, a special unit formed to secure the rebel-infested tri-boundary towns of Kiblawan, Tampakan in South Cotabato and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.
The area is also site of ongoing exploration activities and future site of mining operations of SMI.
At least two SMI supervisors who were sought for comments did not answer calls made to their mobile phones.
The Capions earlier rejected an offer from Wayagwag to bring them to the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel.
Fugitive tribal leader
Grounded 27th IB commanding officer Lt. Col. Alexis Noel Bravo claimed fugitive tribal leader Daguil Capion fired at his men as they were approaching his house to “serve a warrant of arrest” against him.
In a mobile phone interview with the Catholic-run dxCP in General Santos City, however, Capion denied he was in the house when the soldiers fired at it with his wife and children still sleeping inside.
Capion is leading a band of fully armed Blaan tribesmen that included brothers Batas and Kitara in a pangayao (tribal war) against SMI which he claimed has been encroaching on their ancestral domain.
The fugitive tribal leader has reportedly joined the communist-led New People’s Army after conducting a series of ambushes against SMI personnel.
At least three drill contractors of SMI and two of its security personnel had been killed by Capion and his men.
Capion was said to be visiting his wife when the military received reports of his presence.
Capion however denied he was inside the house and denied reports he fired his gun. He said he slept in the nearby forested hill to keep his family from harm.
He said he was less than 200 meters away when the military strafed his house.
Gutierrez said a team from the AFP’s Board of Inquiry lead by Col. Fidel Pumihic had assured him that a thorough investigation is now being conducted to determine the responsibility of the military unit that figured in the killings.
“I am following the case very, very, very seriously,” Gutierrez told reporters in his residence.
Saying he believed there was no encounter and that the Capions were massacred, the bishop said a different result of the military investigation would be unacceptable.
“I have more confidence in my people (social action workers) than you,” Gutierrez reportedly told Pumihic.
The bishop said he is hopeful Pumihic will make good his promise to prosecute the erring soldiers.
Pumihic also once served as battalion commander of the 27th IB which is based in Tupi, South Cotabato.
Gutierrez also said he will be waiting for the military to bring the survivors to his residence as earlier promised by Wayagwag.
Massacre, not encounter
Fr. Joy Peliño, SAC director and who led the first fact-finding team to reach the area the following day, said all indications point to the indiscriminate strafing of the helpless civilians.
“(It was a serious) lapse of judgment and blunder on the part of the military,” Fr. Peliño said.
Relatives of Daguil Capion also claimed it was a massacre.
In a press conference in Davao City on Monday, Erita Capion-Dialang, Juvy’s sister-in-law said that when soldiers arrived in Sitio Datal-Alyong, John and his mother were still sleeping inside their hut while Jordan was having coffee.
Dialang said that when her sister, Melanie, arrived at the hut to save Becky and Ressa, she heard the military said: “Tiwasi na lang ng mga bata” (kill the other children too).
Melanie, however, pleaded to spare the children, she added.
Meanwhile, the National Democratic Front in Far South Mindanao Region (NDF-FSMR) said that Daguil has joined the rebel group after he was declared “most wanted” by authorities.
In a statement, the NDF-FSMR said Daguil has “embraced the ideals of the revolutionary movement.” (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews contributor)