MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 17 May) – Umayamnon tribal leader Benjamin “Otto” Omao was shot dead past 8 a.m. today by three unidentified gunmen who posed as solicitors in his office at the Indigenous People’s Apostolate in Barangay Casisang here
Vice Mayor-elect Roland F. Deticio, who went to the area to check the situation and console with the victim’s family, said Omao sustained multiple wounds from a total of nine bullets fired from long fire arms.
Three colleagues of the assailants reportedly served as lookouts outside the building and in the highway.
Omao’s visitor at that time, a barangay-level IP mandatory representative, and Omao’s aide were also hit and were brought to a hospital for surgical operations.
Deticio said Omao is serving his second term as indigenous people’s mandatory representative to the Malaybalay city council. He chairs the council’s committee on ethnic and indigenous cultural communities’ development.
The vice mayor cited that Omao had been telling his colleagues about “work related” death threats for a while now. But Deticio said the lumad leader did not specify details of the threats.
Omao was known as an active tribal leader in their tribe. His work included being the emissary of Malaybalay City Mayor Ignacio W. Zubiri on matters and problems concerning indigenous peoples.
Datu Richard Macas, IP mandatory representative to the provincial board, said Omao’s death is a big loss to the cause of promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples in Bukidnon. Macas, however, noted that they will defer to the results of investigation of the killing before giving any further statement.
During the monthly meeting of IP mandatory representatives from Bukidnon’s 20 towns and two cities on May 13 at the NCIP provincial office, Omao raised the issue against non-government organizations who allegedly use the Lumad in their propaganda. Macas, who presided over the meetings, quoted Omao as saying some IPs in the communities fall prey into schemes luring them to a possible rice distribution, only to find out they will attend a rally.
Macas said some IP mandatory representatives reminded the body that there are also NGOs who helped to place lumads in position to be able to help monitor the performance of local governments.
He said they will file a resolution urging municipal and city mayors to coordinate with the mandatory representatives with regards to the presence and engagement of alleged bogus IP groups in their areas.
Omao took his oath of office as mandatory representative of the IPs to the city council on May 22, 2012 by virtue of Republic Act 8371, or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997.
Deticio, re-elected to a new term, said Omao was a “performer” in the city council strongly pushing for legislation for the welfare and protection of indigenous peoples. Among the advocacies he felt very strongly about was the establishment of an IP college in coordination with local universities.
Deticio said Omao was vocal about the creation of a college following the traditions of the Lumad to be located in the city’s Upper Pulangi district to uplift the situation of education in the area.
Citizens took to social media their wish for peace and condolences to the bereaved family, including calls for justice.
“What sad news! May you rest in peace, Datu! Justice should prevail,” user “J.O.” posted on the wall of the city council’s Facebook account this morning.
“The shooting of (Omao) is the most repulsive act committed by anybody here in the city recently…” the Facebook post added.
Staff of the Sangguniang Panlungsod offered prayers in the session hall this morning after the regular session was cancelled due to the shooting incident. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews contributor)