TANDAG CITY (MindaNews/05 September) — Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel wants the Philippine Army to “disband and disarm” the Bagani Forces, a paramilitary group composed of Lumads (Indigenous peoples) suspected to have been responsible for the killing of three persons Tuesday dawn, including the executive director of an alternative learning center in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
“We have been having this kind of problems for the past six years and the Bagani militiamen have been the cause of this problem. This has to stop. The only solution here is for the Army to disband and disarm the Bagani forces. The Army helped in creating this militia group then they should find means to stop and put an end to them,” said Pimentel.
The governor made this pronouncement after visiting an evacuation center here where some 2,416 villagers from Barangay Diatagon in Lianga town, Surigao del Sur, sought shelter following Tuesday’s killings.
The executive director of an alternative learning center for Indigenous Peoples (Lumads) and two other members were killed allegedly by the paramilitary group, Bagani Forces, at around 4 a.m. Tuesday in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, Karapatan Caraga said.
Killed were Emerito Samarca, 54, Executive Director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev); Dionel Campos, chair of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU), a Lumad organization protesting mining operations, land conversions and plantations, and Campos’ cousin, Bello Sinzo.
Karapatan-Caraga narrated that at around 4 a.m. on September 1, “known elements” of the Magahat-Bagani “opened fire at Dionel Campos and Aurelio Sinzo as community members in Km. 16, Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur were roused from bed and forced to gather in the middle of the community.”
At around the same time, Samarca’s body “was found in one of the one of the schoolrooms, tied around the neck and extremities, with a stab wound.”
Pimentel made it clear that he knows that the Army has been working with the Bagani forces in the past.
“It would be hard for the Army to deny that they know these people because members of this Bagani force have been seen within their headquarters. We have seen this militia group carry between 20 to 30 high-powered firearms, which costs around 150,000 pesos each. Where did this tribal group get their assault rifles and ammunitions? Why allow this group to just walk around carrying such firearms?” asked the governor.
“We are appearing inutile as we are helpless to do anything. These people are acting like gods,” said Pimentel.
Colonel Isidro Purisima, commander of the Army 402nd Brigade under the 4th Infantry Division said they will support the province on its action against the armed group.
“We strongly condemn the action of this armed group and we will support the local government unit and the police in conducting law enforcement operation against armed lawless elements. We call on the Bagani forces to surrender as well as any other armed group in the area which includes the New People’s Army (NPA),” said Purisima.
Community members have accused the group of Datu Calpi Egua to be behind the deaths, attacks and harassments in several villages across five towns.
But Purisima said Datu Calpit is “not the only Bagani here in Caraga. There is an ongoing tribal war between several IP groups against the NPA. It is not the Army doing these actions but those IP’s who have pledged to fight against communist aggression.”
Purisima said they “never neglected our duty. In fact (there were) several instances in the past where we took action against the Bagani forces,” he said, citing the incident against Bagani forces on May 11, 2015 at a mining company in Carrascal town.
Purisima emphasized that there is a process that they follow in the apprehension of such groups.
“Our primary objective is the suppression of insurgency. This is law enforcement incident which falls on the police. In this case we have due process and a case should be filed. Even suspected NPA we can’t directly arrest without warrant of arrest,” he said.
The provincial police office has named and identified three suspects who are allegedly behind the killings.
“We have identified Bobby Tejero, Loloy Tejero and Garito Layno who are going to face charges of multiple murder and arson,” said Sr. Supt. Narciso Verdadero.
As of September 4, 2015, the number of internally displaced persons in the evacuation center at the Surigao del Sur Sports Center in Tandag City had reached 501 families or 2,416 individuals.
Tuesday’s killings triggered the mass evacuations.
In a statement, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) called on government to ensure the safety of the Lumads through the pull-out of the 36th IB in Lianga and through the “dismantling (of) the AFP organized and supported paramilitary forces,” to give justice to the victims and to “permit the conduct of independent fact-finding missions.”
Capt. Al Anthony Pueblas, civil military operations officer of the 36th IB told MindaNews on Tuesday night that they were surprised their unit was implicated because the area is “not part of our jurisdiction.”
The NCCP called on authorities to “stop the militarization in Mindanao by ending the government anti-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan that has been linked to extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, trumped up charges, tortures, massacres, and displacement of thousands of individuals” and to resume the peace talks between government and the National Democratic Front.
The Save Our Schools Network, in a statement, demanded justice for Samarca, Campos and Sinzo.
“The Aquino government should be held accountable for all these violations. It is responsible for the formation and arming of the paramilitary groups, the paving the way for the entry of large-scale destructive projects in the ancestral domains, the sowing of disunity among IPs, and the killings that have claimed the lives of many,” it said. (Erwin Mascarinas / MindaNews)