Death in the village of Harmony

BATO VILLAGE, Guiangga, Davao City (MindaNews / 11 May) – Since the killing of Datu Dominador Diarog on April 29 in Sitio Kahusayan (Harmony Village), a seven-kilometer walk from here, the sitio has become a virtual “ghost town,” its villagers dispersed to several areas to seek refuge — under the shade of banana plants in neighboring Sitio Dominguez, with relatives and friends in the midst of banana plantations here, and in an elementary school and the Solidarity Action Group for Indigenous Peoples (SAGIP) in downtown Davao City, 36 kilometers away.

The wake for the 47-year old Bagobo-Giangan Datu and father of nine, was held in a small chapel here, five villages away from where he was killed and his wife and two young children wounded when armed men indiscriminately fired at their house on a hill in Sitio Kahusayan before midnight, just as everyone was deep in sleep.

Like so many narratives of Lumad displacements in Mindanao, the killing of the Datu succeeded not only in silencing the most vocal opposition but also in driving away the villagers from what the Datu claimed was their remaining ancestral domain – a two-hectare land the rich and the mighty wanted to buy for a measly P50,000.

Again, as in most narratives, the defiant Datu defends the land to the last of his breath, and it usually is the last piece of property that has not been purchased. In most cases, the land is needed to expand a plantation or a “development project.” In this case, family members say it is to “plant pine trees” around the prayer mountain of a preacher who calls himself “Son of God.”

Diolito Diarog, one of the Datu’s sons, told a press conference afternoon of May 9 that early this year, Tambayong barangay captain Greg Canada, who is known among the villagers as representative of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ The Name Above Every Name, made the offer of P50,000 to his father twice. In both, his father said no.

In radio interviews last week, Canada denied he made the offer.

Whoever made the offer to the Datu, however, failed to get his consent to the purchase. Thereafter, a series of harassments followed.

Diolito counted four attempts to burn their farmhouse – at 1 a.m. on March 1, 1 a.m. on April 4, 4 pm on April 8 and 2 pm the last one, on April 20. The last one succeeded.

But more than the burning, the Datu’s nephews, Danny and Junaz, told the May 9 press that their family was left with no other choice but to sell their two-hectare land for P100,000 to Canada. Canada, they said, paid them cash.

Worse, they said were offered P20,000 to  kill the Datu, their uncle.

Lt. Col. Alexander Ambal, chief of the Armys’ 73rd IB, was earlier reported to have said Diarog may have been killed by the New People’s Army (NPA) for assisting the military in the counter-insurgency campaign. Ambal said Diarog, a former militiaman, was one of the leaders of the Supreme Tribal Council for Peace and Development (STCPD), a military-backed tribal organization actively involved in the anti-insurgency campaign.

But the NPA in Southern Mindanao, in a May 5 press statement denied Ambal’s allegations.

“The NPA strongly condemns this hideous crime as a despicable attack on indigenous peoples who resist all attempts to occupy and grab their diminishing ancestral lands,” the statement signed by Ricardo Firmeza, spokesperson of the Magtanggol Roque Command, said.

Kerlan Fanagel, secretary-general of the PASAKA Confederation of Lumads, said “this is an alarming incident that needs urgent and in-depth investigation especially that, ‘men in uniform with TF (Task Force Davao) armband under 73rd IB’ are allegedly involved in the strafing attack that took away the life of Datu Doming who have been known to be fighting for ancestral land rights.”

PASAKA’s statement cited residents as saying soldiers of Task Force Davao under  the 73rd Infantry Battalion “ are seen operating in the area and it has been widely known that they have close links with Quiboloy’s private army. According to the reports reaching PASAKA office, Military soldiers from 73rd IB are not only silent spectators but they are direct backers and protectors of the congregation of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy.”

In a statement, Quiboloy said they “do not wish to dignify the initial reports linking our congregation to the unfortunate incident that happened in a nearby barangay adjacent to the covenant mountain and prayer center in Tamayong,” claiming these are ”totally false and baseless, if not ridiculous.”

Quiboloy’s statement read they would “trust only the police and the military authorities in investigating the incident and coming up with their corresponding findings on the same.”

“Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte as the ‘Father of Davao City,’ who has direct control over the political jurisdiction of the city, has spoken, dismissing the rumors as untrue,” Quiboloy’s statement read.

Duterte told his Sunday television program, “Gikan Sa Masa, Para sa Masa (From the Masses, for the Masses), that he has known Quiboloy “for the longest time,” even before he was mayor, saw him rise from pastor of a kapilya (chapel) to his flock now, seen his property outside the country but more than that, the Pastor, his spiritual adviser, is “a gentle person.”

“Dili ko mutuo nga si pastor who has by this time billions” (I cannot believe that the Pastor who has by this time billions), would sacrifice his honor for a “measly two hectares.”

But Duterte warned against being misconstrued. If there is evidence against the Pastor, he said, addressing Quiboloy, “You do not cease to be my friend. I will still be your friend until kingdom come… but you answer for this.”

The villagers of Sitio Kahusayan who arrived in the downtown area on May 8, said they would return to their village only when the mayor assures their safety.

Out here in Bato Village, Erlinda, the mother of Danny and Junaz, is worried as they fled Sitio Kahusayan with only the clothes on their back the night gunshots roused them from sleep. She wonders if her chickens and pig are still alive.  “Wala na to’y makaon” (They have nothing to eat), she said.

But she is worried, too, about the coming school year. Would her kids be able to return to school?

Erlinda had sold their own two-hectare land for a hundred thousand pesos in March. Her sons told reporters the family was left with no choice as they would have difficulties getting past the barbed-wire fence.

Two months later, the hundred thousand peso they received is but a memory. And so is their two-hectare land.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)