CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/09 October) — At least eight armed groups are operating in Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur provinces, an internal report by the 4th Infantry Division on the number of so-called Bagani fighters revealed.
Included in the report titled “Profile on the Indigenous People (IP) Bagani in 4ID AOR”, is the Jomar Bocales and Tejero-Belandres armed group, suspects in the Sept. 1 killing of a Lumad school director and two others in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
Killed were Emerito Samarca, 54, Executive Director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development, a school for Lumads, and NGO leaders Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo.
The killings sparked the evacuation of over 3,000 residents from Barangay Diatagon in Lianga and neighboring areas.
The Philippine National Police has filed multiple murder, arson, robbery and grave threats at the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Lianga against Bobby Tejero, his older brother Loloy alias Abab, Gareto Layno, and several John Does of the Bagani paramilitary group who were held responsible for the killings.
The Army report said the Tejero brothers belong to the Bagani armed group led by Jomar Bocales, a Manobo tribal chieftain, that operates in the towns of Lianga, Barobo, San Miguel and San Agustin in Surigao del Sur.
“Although the group is under the leadership of Jomar Bocales, the most vocal warriors are the groups of Bobby Tejero and Marcial Melendrez (another former NPA rebel),” the report said.
Bocales, in an interview with MindaNews, admitted that Bobby Tejero, his brother Loloy and Layno used to be part of the armed group he formed with Datu Calpit Egua in October 2014.
He said Calpit and the Tejero brothers including Layno had a falling-out when their group leader, Hassan Flores, went back to the New People’s Army in Surigao del Sur bringing with him five high-powered firearms last July 11.
NPA commander Ka Emman confirmed that Flores, a former rebel, returned to their ranks bringing the firearms he seized from Bocales and the Tejero brothers.
The military report said the armed group led by Calpit is operating in the towns of Bayugan and Prosperidad in Agusan del Sur, and San Miguel in Surigao del Sur.
It also identified armed groups that are with Datu Jasmin: Datu Alah, Datu Benhur Mansalunay, and Datu Sunjay.
Bocales said Calpit, who is his uncle, is the richest among the datus (tribal chieftains) having a gold ore mining site in the boundary of Barangay La Purisima in Prosperidad town and Barangay San Juan in Bayugan town, all in Agusan del Sur.
He said it was Calpit not the military who armed the Baganis after a failed attempt by the NPA to overrun his camp in Barangay Sta. Irene, Prosperidad town in July 2014.
Calpit was wounded while his brother, Nestor, died in the attack where at least 13 NPA rebels were killed.
During the Senate public hearing on the Lumad killings in Tandag, Surigao del Sur, Father Glen Acosta, assistant parish priest of Barobo, Surigao del Sur said town residents told him the camp of Datu Jasmin is located near an Army detachment in Barangay Mamis, Barobo.
In the report, Jasmin is described as “sympathetic with government forces especially to the Philippine Army.”
At least one armed group—the Datu Alah tribal group—was described in the report as having been “augmented by elements of the PNP Surigao del Sur Provincial Office” to restore order in Barangay Pantukan in San Miguel town.
The report identified logging and rattan-cutting operations as the main sources of livelihood for most of the Bagani armed groups especially those with Mansalunay.
Several violent incidents involving these groups were mentioned in the report notably the seizure of mining equipment of CNC Mining Company in Carrascal town last May 11. The Baganis reportedly demanded P24 million for the return of the equipment.
The report also said several datus including Romel Alah of Barangay Pantukan, Carrascal were killed by NPA rebels.
Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar has called for the disbandment and disarming of all paramilitary groups that are accused of sowing terror in Lumad communities believed to be sympathetic to the NPA.
Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel has urged the Philippine Army to disband and disarm the Baganis calling them “a security threat to the residents.”
The Army has denied it is supporting and arming the Bagani armed groups. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)