Relatives of slain B’laan hunter seek justice

"Kung kami lang, dili namo kaya nga buhion ang pamilya ni Rogelio. Busa, gusto namo nga ang Army ang mubuhi sa pamilya sa akong manghod (We can't

afford to support Rogelio's family.  That is why we demand that the Army support my younger brother's immediate family)," said Toying Lagaro, elder

brother of the slain B'laan.

Col. Felipe Tabas, commander of the Army's 604th Infantry Brigade, said the B'laans figured in an armed encounter with government soldiers who were

conducting a patrol.

But Lagaro's companions belied the Army's claim that he died in an alleged encounter, saying they went on traditional hunting for wild animals to feed their


The Columbio National Police said Lagaro was in the group of his B'laan friends, including Jerry Peles, 32, Rodel Lagaro, 17, Lucio Peles, 28, Fely Samling,

33, and Siwana Peles, 55.

The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in Columbio is set to file charges of human rights violations against the soldiers, according to Rakim

Dabi, municipal liaison officer of NCIP.

"Why accuse these B'laan as NPA members, when in truth and in fact, they're not?   We at the NCIP do not encourage our people to join the rebel

movement. What happened last June 1 was a violation of our rights as B'laan natives," said Rakim.

But Lt. Col. Cesar Idio, commander of the 25th IB, said the military would give no indemnification, claiming the June 1 incident was a "legitimate" operation

and that Lagaro and his companions were members of the New Peoples' Army (NPA) operating in the area.

"We ask for apology for what happened. It wasn't our fault. What transpired at Datal Blao was an encounter between my men and the NPA rebels," said

Idio in an interview over dxND-NDBC.

He further claimed the natives were armed and "were out to kill government troops."

"Why were these people at the forests of Barangay Datal Blao? We already informed the village officials that we would conduct operations in the area.  If

they were just doing hunting, why do it in times that we're doing our operations?" the military official asked.

Peles, one of Lagaro's companions, denied they were NPA rebels, adding he even shouted that they were civilians but that the soldiers ignored and

continued firing.

Lagaro has four children and his wife was expecting to deliver their fifth child anytime this month, according to Toying.

A dry spell has hit Columbio since March forcing Lagaro and other natives in the area to feed their families by hunting wild animals in the thick forests of

Barangay Datal Blao, tribal chieftain Datu Agustin Dabi said.

"So why prevent us from going into the forests when the forests are part of our survival?    The forests are our ancestral lands.  Nobody can prevent us

from getting there, not even the Army," Dabi said in Ilonggo. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)