Killings alarm Lumads, residents of Zambo Sur town

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BAYOG, Zamboanga del Sur (MindaNews/2 Sept) — A series of killings, threats and harassments over the past months has alarmed indigenous people and civilian communities in this town.

A report submitted to the regional office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Western Mindanao said that there have been 15 killings in the months of May and June.

Timuay Lucenio Manda, barangay captain of Conacon of this town, said that of the 15 cases, 12 were politically motivated, and that eight of the victims were lumads.

Among the cases documented by poblacion barangay captain Horace Paul T. Andap was the controversial death of 10-year-old Neknek S. Galaman, whose body, beheaded and with stab wounds, was found in a forested area. He reportedly visited an uncle at Conacon.

The parents of the victim suspected that a 15-year-old neighbor committed the crime last April 26 although motive was unclear.

Bayog is a third class municipality in Zamboanga del Sur. Its residents derive their income mainly from farming, small and large scale mining operations, logging and micro-entrepreneurial endeavors. It is also known as a rice granary of the region. Despite its relatively flourishing natural abundance, the town is marred with unpeace due to unsolved crimes.

The series of killings was contained in a report dated June 17 and submitted to the CHR by Andap.

On May 6, a group of armed men at Barangay Dimalinao indiscriminately fired at the houses of Roger B. Sotillo, Rico Sotillo, Rosalie Regulacion, Jerry Balendres, Rio Balendres and Jimmy Tanggot. The strafing killed Melanie Perocho while both the Sotillo brothers were seriously injured.

Around that time, also in Dimalinao, Dodong Tapdasan and Reynaldo Bali were shot dead and their dead bodies bore stabbed wounds, too.

On May 31, former barangay councilor Julieto O. Ayawon was hacked and beheaded while he was on his way to transport his passengers to Barangay Sigacad.

On June 1, brothers Topen and Sampie Esig where shot dead and stabbed while they were on their way to collect the allowance of Sampie’s wife Teresa, a barangay councilor of Bantal.

On the evening of same day, a pedicab driver and palay harvester Larry C. Doyugan was shot dead near the Sibugay River by suspected armed men and “made the victim an object of their shooting range.”

On June 3, Jopie Dominguez Tapdasan, 21, was hacked to death by unknown suspects at Barangay Pulangbato. Jopie is the younger brother of Dodong who was earlier killed on May 6.

A certain Dodoy Gundae was also killed on June 13 due to his alleged involvement in highway robberies and gun-for-hire activities.

Late night on June 14 a certain Allan Villegas Canoy, caretaker of a rubber plantation, was abducted at sitio Marao of Barangay Depase. His dead body was recovered by police authorities a day after.

Cecil de Joya, of the Medical Action Group who joined the fact finding mission conducted recently by human rights groups coming from 11 civil society networks and partners, noted that 12 of the 15 cases were politically motivated. “Police authorities interviewed on these matters recorded that suspects are unknown, and thus the crimes remain unsolved,” she said.

SPO2 Marchel J. Belza, women desk police officer of Bayog, pointed out that there apparently is a liquidation group in the town who gets paid from P15,000 to P20,000 to carry out the killings. Running after the suspects is reportedly difficult because most crimes happened in remote hinterland villages.

The fact-finding team has documented threats, harassments and surveillance activities against Lumad leaders due to emerging conflict of interests on resource utilization, particularly on mining operations. Among the victims were Timuay Lucenio Manda and Danny Sauklom.

The team noted that the case of beheading children is not new. In 2008, two teenagers were likewise found beheaded in crimes that remain unsolved.

Timuay Romeo Ambucay lamented that most families of victims would rather not testify against the suspects, lest the latter stage retaliatory attacks.

Andap said that of the victims are supporters of losing mayoralty candidate Arnel Lucero. He is brother of former three-termer Bayog mayor Mary Anne Lucero-Cartalla.

Newly elected Mayor Leonardo Babasa Jr. affirmed that most of the cases were indeed election-related. He acknowledged, too, that there were also crimes that happened long before he assumed office.

He vowed to look into the reported threats and harassments against the Subanen tribe in due time. “I’m focused on administrative concerns these days since it’s barely three months since I assumed office,” he said.

A Timuay confidante of the mayor related that the mayor is concerned about how these unsolved crimes could damage the reputation of the local administration.

“There is a need to educate and increase the capacities of town residents, including that of local government agencies, on human rights and indigenous people’s rights to increase mechanism on how to protect lives and solve criminalities here,” commented Nymia Pimentel Simbulan, executive director of Manila-based PhilRights, Inc., a member of the FFM.

She said that the CHR is planning to conduct a parallel investigation to resolve issues on crimes in this town but the schedule is not known yet.

The recently concluded three-day fact-finding mission was also joined by representatives of Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan (KsK), Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), Dipolog-Iligan-Ozamiz-Pagadian-Ipil-Marawi Committee on Mining, Inc. (DCMI), Social Action Ministry of Ipil (in Zamboanga del Sur), Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc., Miriam College, Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao (AFRIM), Ecoweb Inc., Medical Action Group (MAG) and Pikhumpongan Dlebon Subanen Inc. (PDSI)

The mission was prompted after the series of killings was reported to Dipolog Bishop Jose Maguiran and to networks of civil society advocating human rights. The FFM will also formulate recommendations for government, agencies and partners for possible interventions. (Violeta M. Gloria / MindaNews)

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