A year after the Lianga killings: no arrests, no justice

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 01 Sept) – A year after the killing of the executive director of an alternative learning center for Indigenous Peoples (Lumads) and two Lumad leaders in Lianga, Surigao del Sur by paramilitary elements, the perpetrators have yet to be arrested and some 2,000 displaced Lumads who temporarily sought shelter at the Tandag Sports Complex in Tandag City, have yet to return home.

“A year after the brutal killing, the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary perpetrators are still at large and troops under the 75th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army are still encamping at Sitio Han-ayan, Brgy. Diatagon,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in a press released issued on September 1 by the human rights group.

Palabay joined the “more than 2,000 Lumad evacuees” and human rights advocates to commemorate the first anniversary of the killings at the Tandag Sports Complex on September 1.

Child evacuees hold classes at the evacuation center in Tandag City (Oct. 1, 2015). MindaNews photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno
Child evacuees hold classes at the evacuation center in Tandag City  on Oct. 1, 2015. MindaNews photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno

The 54-year old Samarca was Executive Director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) while Campos was chair of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU), a Lumad organization protesting mining operations, land conversions and plantations.

Karapatan-Caraga in a statement on September 1 last year, narrated that at around 4 a.m. “known elements” of the Magahat-Bagani “opened fire” at Campos and 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 early this morning.”

The Magahat-Bagani are also Lumads.

Han-ayan residents interviewed by MindaNews at the evacuation center last year said the armed men warned they would return to “massacre” them.

At around the same time, Samarca’s body “was found in one of the schoolrooms, tied around the neck and extremities, with a stab wound.”

The killings led to a series of investigations, including a two-day Senate Probe on Lumad Killings held October 1 and 2 last year in Tandag City, which ended with Mindanawon senators Teofisto Guingona III and Aquilino Pimentel III echoing the call of Lumads, church and local government leaders to arrest, disarm and disband the “Magahat-Bagani” paramilitary group that has been repeatedly accused of sowing terror in several towns in Surigao del Sur and whose disbandment has also been repeatedly sought.

“Apparent unholy alliance”

Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar, however, left the two-day probe still waiting for answers to critical questions about what he referred to as the “apparent unholy alliance between the military and the paramilitary which the military vehemently denies.”

The two-day Senate probe on Lumad killings held in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur, ended Friday afternoon with critical questions unanswered. MindaNews photo by Erwin Mascarinas
The two-day Senate probe on Lumad killings held in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur, ended on October 2, 2015  with critical questions unanswered. MindaNews photo by Erwin Mascarinas

Odchimar told the probe called for by the Senate Committees on Justice and Human Rights, and Cultural Communities that he is “baffled” why, despite the military’s denials of an alliance, Marcial Belandres, one of the leaders of the paramilitary group and principal suspect in the October 2014 killing of Manobo teacher Henry Alameda and Aldren Dumaguit, was among three persons presented as Datus in a press conference in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on September 15, 2015.

In that press conference, Belandres and company cleared the military of alleged collusion with the paramilitary group and instead pointed to the New People’s Army (NPA) as the perpetrators of the killings and harassments.

The press conference came two weeks after the September 1 killings in Lianga.

The Army Board of Inquiry said a military patrol was about a hundred meters away from the basketball court where the paramilitary group of about 20 held hostage at gunpoint about a hundred civilians, including women and children, but the patrol leader, a fresh graduate from the Philippine Military Academy, reportedly claimed they could not engage the armed group despite an order from their superiors, allegedly for fear of harming the civilians.

The Philippine National Police had filed a complaint for multiple murder, arson, robbery and grave threats at the Provincial Prosecutors Office in Lianga town against the brothers Bobby and Loloy Tejero, Garito Layno, and several John Does.

The attack triggered the evacuation of some 3,000 residents from Han-ayan and 26 other villages in the towns of Lianga, San Agustin, San Miguel, Marihatag and Tago. They moved to the Sports Center within the Provincial Capitol compound in Tandag City.

Arrest the perpetrators

Palabay called on the Duterte administration to enforce the “long-overdue” arrest of the Magahat-Bagani perpetrators “as many witnesses have repeatedly cited the military as ‘coddlers of the said paramilitary groups.’”

Karapatan said that on August 24, 2016, some 260 individuals from religious and rights groups, and Lumad and people’s organizations conducted an ocular inspection in Diatagon, in preparation for the Lumads’ return to their communities.

“Documentation teams noted that military camps and presence of soldiers were seen in the middle of Km. 9 and in the ALCADEV school grounds in Sitio Han-ayan, Brgy. Diatagon, Lianga, the site of the September 1 Lianga massacre. These military camps have been previously documented in the October 26 – 30, 2015 International Fact Finding Mission,” Karapatan said.

The documentation teams also noted that “soldiers refused to be interviewed … despite the presence of local government units and other government representatives;” that since the 2015 IFFM, “an additional military structure – a new checkpoint along the main road beside the Pamana water tub” had been set up, and that “bullet slugs were found in several locations within Emerald (8 pcs), Km 9 (1 pc), Km 16 (9 pcs) and Han-ayan (10 pcs). Holes from bullet shots were also found in Dionel Campos’ house and Alcadev mini-gym in Han-ayan.”

“These were not present during the 2015 IFFM,” Karapatan said.

The documentation teams also noted that “houses situated close to where the military encamped were among the worst damaged and looted as observed during the ocular visit.”

The houses abandoned by the residents a year ago were reported to have been damaged, “either burned, ransacked or vandalized; their household and personal belongings destroyed or looted; and all primary and ALCADEV school buildings and facilities were structurally damaged, and school equipment and education materials irreparably destroyed.”

Palabay said that if the military “will not pull-out and dismantle their camps within the villages, and once again sow terror through their combat operations, including their ‘community organizing for peace and development,’ we will hold 402nd Brigade commander Col. Isidro Purisima accountable.”

Karapatan said Purisima met with leaders of Mapasu on August 29 and told them his troops will pull-out and turn-over the community to the residents. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)