BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/29 September) – The presence of many civilian hostages prevented a military patrol from engaging a paramilitary group that was accused of killing three Lumad leaders in Surigao del Sur on Sept. 1, a copy of the Army Board of Inquiry obtained by MindaNews said.
The report said the patrol was only 100 meters from the paramilitary group holding civilians as hostages in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur but could not interfere for fear of harming them.
It added the soldiers could only helplessly watch despite an order from the 75th Infantry Battalion to engage the paramilitary group which residents referred to as Magahat or Bagani.
“We cannot engage the armed elements because of the presence of many civilians including women and children,” the soldiers reported back to their superiors at the 75th headquarters in Bislig, Surigao del Sur.
The soldiers reported around 20 heavily armed men were holding around 100 civilians as human shields in Sitio Han-ayan, on Sept. 1.
The same group allegedly paraded Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo, both Lumads, around a basketball court before they were gunned down in front of other residents.
The same group was also accused of killing Emerito Samarca, 54, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development, a school for Lumads.
The report said the armed men fired their guns in the air as they retreated from Sitio Han-ayan until the soldiers could no longer see them.
The killings triggered a mass evacuation of some 3,000 residents to Tandag City, the provincial capital, for fear they would be killed too.
Military intelligence chief in Northern Mindanao Lt. Col. Arlino Sendaydiego, completed the Army Board of Inquiry Report on Sept. 6 on orders from Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division.
A copy of the report was given to Sen. Teofisto Guinona Jr., chair of the Senate peace, unification and reconciliation committee who will conduct a public hearing on the incident and Lumad killings in Tandag, Surigao del Sur on Thursday.
The same Army report said the armed men also torched several buildings in Sitio Han-ayan.
Police have filed multiple murder, arson, robbery and grave threats at the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Lianga against Bobby Tejero, his older brother Oloy alias Abab, Gareto Layno, and several John Does of the Bagani paramilitary group who were held responsible for the killings.
Lactao placed under court martial proceedings the Army platoon leader, a fresh graduate from the Philippine Military Academy, and reprimanded his company commander.
An Army major who served as the officer of the day of the 75th IB was also relieved.
4ID spokesperson Capt. Patrick Martinez said the Army officers maintained they were exercising their “judgment call” as the events leading to the killings of the school director and his two companions unfolded.
“The young Army officer is now confined at the 4ID headquarters in Cagayan de Oro City,” Martinez said.
But he withheld the identity of the officer pending the outcome of the court martial. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)