TANDAG CITY (MindaNews/01 October) – Some 30 Army troopers were with the members of the paramilitary group Magahat who reportedly killed three Lumad leaders in a village in Lianga, Surigao del Sur on Sept. 1, evacuees who said they witnessed the killings said Thursday.
Erlinda Pagalan, of Km 16, Sitio Han-ayan in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga said the Magahat herded all residents of her place and other areas of Han-ayan to the basketball court of Km 16 and made them witness the killings.
“They arrived at 5:30 a.m. on Sept. 1 and gathered us at the basketball court. Then the Magahat ransacked our houses and took cell phones, cash and anything that was of value to them,” Pagalan said.
Manobo children try to continue with their daily chores as students at the evacuation site in Tandag City on Octo. 1, 2015. Some 3000 mostly Manobo Lumads fled their homes in Lianga, Surigao del Sur and neighboring areas after the massacre on Sept. 1 of three Lumad leaders in the area by alleged paramilitary men. MindaNews photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno
“After that, they shot dead Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo in our presence,” she said.
“We were stunned and frightened, we thought they were going to kill us next,” she added.
Pagalan said the Magahat killed Emerito Samarca earlier, at about 4:30 a.m. of the same day with a bolo.
Jocklyn Enriquez, also of Km 16 said he believes Samarca was killed with a bolo so that the other residents could not be forewarned. “I saw Garito coming from where Sir Emok (Samarca’s nickname) was killed carrying a bolo that was dripping with blood.”
Pagalan said the Magahat and the soldiers talked for about two hours before leaving the place.
“The Magahat ordered us to leave the place in two days. If we wouldn’t leave, they vowed to return and harm us,” she said.
Marvel Enriquez, a bakwit from Km 16, Sitio Han-ayan in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur, lulls her 5-month old daughter to sleep at the evacuation area in Tandag City (01 October 2015). MindaNews photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno
She said they started walking toward Diatagon proper at around 10:00 a.m. without taking breakfast and lunch. From Diatagon, they took multicabs to the sports complex in Tandag, the provincial capital, where they have been staying since.
Marvel Enriquez, a niece of Jocklyn’s, also said the Magahat were escorted by soldiers when they went to their place and killed the three victims.
She said she and the other people who were gathered at the basketball court saw the Magahat mow down Campos and Sinzo with long firearms.
Jocklyn said the soldiers who accompanied the Magahat were members of the 75th Infantry Battalion.
He identified the Magahat leaders as Loloy Tejero, Bobby Tejero and Garito Layno. “They came on the night of Aug. 29, left on Aug. 31 but came back on Sept. 1.”
He said the three Magahat leaders arrived on Sept. 1 wearing bonnets but removed their masks just before killing the three victims. “Mora ba’g gusto nilang ipakita nga isog gyud sila (As if they wanted to prove that they’re really brave). I know them because I always see them in Logdeck, Barangay San Isidro (also in Lianga).”
He said Logdeck is where the Magahat has established a camp allegedly near an Army detachment.
A Manobo boy, one of the bakwits at the provincial sports complex in Tandag City. MindaNews photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno
Jocklyn said the Magahat carried long firearms including one “nga ang bala morag tinapa” (which ammunition was as big as a sardine can), likely referring to an M203 grenade launcher.
“They also carried hand-held radios and they seemed to be in constant contact with somebody,” he added.
“How can they acquire high-powered firearms and radios when they are also poor like us?” Marvel, cradling her 5-month old daughter, said.
Jocklyn said he carried his two grandchildren on his shoulders in going down to Diatagon. “Even the elderly ones had to walk 16 kilometers to Diatagon. I only brought what I could carry with my hands.”
The military earlier issued a report contradicting the statements of Han-ayan residents that soldiers accompanied the killers. According to a report by the Army Board of Inquiry, the soldiers were positioned some 100 meters from the “armed group” (Magahat) and the people who were forced to gather at the basketball court.
The report said that while the soldiers had been given the go signal to engage the armed group, they chose to stand down in order not to endanger the civilians.
During the Senate public hearing in Tandag Thursday, Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao, commander of the 4th Infantry Division maintained the military doesn’t condone the presence of paramilitary groups like the Magahat.
In the same hearing, Col. Eduardo Purisima, commander of the 402nd Brigade said the military never issued firearms to the Magahat. “We can account all firearms in the brigade.” Purisima said that since some of the Magahat were former New People’s Army members they could have brought with them their firearms when they left the movement.
Surigao del Sur Governor Pimentel, also speaking in the hearing, said many killings have been attributed to the Magahat.
“If they’re not supported by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), why can they not be apprehended?” Pimentel said, addressing the military.
“How come they’re roaming around the province with high-powered firearms? Is government so inutile that they can’t be arrested?” he added.
Han-ayan residents who testified in the hearing maintained soldiers accompanied the killers of their leaders.
The public hearing, led by the Senate Committee on Justice under Senator Koko Pimentel, listened to testimonies of witnesses, Army and police officials and religious leaders on the killings. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)