PRIVILEGE SPEECH: Let us restore the rule of law in Surigao

(Privilege speech delivered by Senator Teofisto Guingona III at the Senate on September 14, 2015)

Mr. President, before I proceed with my speech, I notice there are students here. I would like to warn everyone. The pictures (that) will be seen will be quite gory. So, kung mahina po ang tiyan ninyo o kung may bata po rito, please take them out of the room. O kung mahina ang tiyan ninyo, I am forewarning everyone that there will be quite.

Mr. President, I am here to report on what happened on August 30 up to September 1 in the municipality of Lianga, Province of Surigao del Sur.

On August 30, Mr. President, soldiers from the 36th Infantry Battalion, 75th Infantry Battalion and the AFP Special Forces, together with a paramilitary group called the “Magahat-Bagani Force” conducted community relations operations on that day in a remote village in Sitio Han-ayan. Sitio Han-ayan is a place inhabited by Lumads. Sa Tagalog, ang tawag diyan mga katutubo. Pero sa Mindanao, ang tawag namin doon, mga Lumads. More or less, between 1,000 and 2,000 individuals po sila.

The sitio is inaccessible, it is in the middle of the jungle, the forest. A few days before they reached the village, they had a send-off. Even the governor was there, the mayors were there in Tandag, they had a send-off. And so, there we could see the soldiers, together with the paramilitary group, conduct civilian relations operations.

So on August 30 again, they arrived and they occupied the function hall inside the school. The school grounds of the school called “ALCADEV” which is an acronym for the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Livelihood and Development.

On August 31, more military men arrived and they occupied the makeshift shed in front of the teachers’ cottage of the school.

Now, on September 1, sometime during the evening of August 30, the military left, the army left the place and they allegedly camped around one to two kilometers away from the sitio. On September 1, around four a.m., a group of paramilitary – not the military – but a paramilitary group called “Magahat-Bagani,” fully armed, stormed the village. They knocked on the doors of everyone living there, told everyone to get out of their house, and they were all herded into the village’s basketball court. While this was happening, members of the Magahat-Bagani stormed the ALCADEV school also and they were looking for Emerito Samarca, the executive director of the Alternative Learning Center. They did find him in the school, on the second floor, they accused him of being a member of NPA. They tied his hands sa likod, they tied his legs and they stabbed him in the chest, and thereafter, they slashed his throat from ear to ear.

That is the picture of Emerito Samarca, the executive director. That was how he was found. He was found around seven o’clock in the morning. The students of ALCADEV and some community members found him in that state. His hands and feet were tied, his throat was slit, and he was stabbed on the chest.

While all this was taking place in the basketball court, Dionel Campos, who is a community leader in that sitio Han-ayan, was told to sit down in front of the community. Sa harap ng mga bata, sa harap ng mga nanay at sa harap ng mga tatay na nakaharap doon sa basketball court, pinaharap si Dionel Campos, pinaluhod at binaril sa likod ng ulo in front of the community. If you will notice the back of his head, there is a hole. This was done in front of children and women.

There was also another person, kawawa naman talaga, his name was Jovelo Bello Sinzo. He was not a member of the community. He was a member of another barangay, but he had a relative who died there at may burol. So nag-attend siya ng burol. That was where Magahat-Bagani found him. They herded him to the basketball court in front of the women and children. They asked him “Makakasiguro ka ba na itong mga ito”, pointing at the community, “babalik sa gobyerno?” Whatever that means. Siyempre si Mr. Sinzo said, “Hindi ako makakasalita para sa kanila.” At noong sinabi niya yan, he was shot in front of the community.

That is the picture of Mr. Jovelo Bello Sinzo.

After they shot those two, they started indiscriminately firing all over. Buti na lang, walang tinamaan. But there was firing all over. Then after a while, the Magahat-Bagani left the community. And in the morning, when the community members returned to sitio Han-ayan or the area where they had a community cooperative, they found, as we can see, it was burned to the ground.

And what happened to the school where they executed Emerito Samarca, the executive director? As we can see, when they returned in the morning, it was still burning. The community members were able to put out the fire. That was what happened during the day of September 1.

A lot of questions are being asked now. First question, this incident happened within a radius of one to two kilometers away from where the military was encamped, may putukan ng baril during the night not once, not twice, but many times. Bakit? Bakit walang pumunta? Bakit walang military na tumulong o nag-imbestiga man lang? And to this day, I have been informed that the Magahat-Bagani are in the next municipality, the neighboring municipality of Barobo. They are there right now, in fact, in Barangay San Vicente and they are going from house to house. Kumakatok sila sa bahay at sinasabi nila “Dati nagbabayad kayo ng taxes sa NPA, ngayon sa amin naman kayo magbabayad.”

I talked to the governor of Surigao del Sur, and I asked him, “Teka muna, hindi na iyan sa bundok, diyan na iyan sa baba. Nandiyan na sila sa baba at nagha-house to house. Bakit walang nangyayari? Nobody is stopping this group. Iyong pulis, governor, sabi ko, nasaan ang pulis? Ang sabi niya, “Ayaw makialam ng pulis, ayaw gumalaw ng pulis dahil daw military matter.”

Mr. President, this is the state that we have right now in certain municipalities in Surigao del Sur. Clearly, this is not the rule of the law; clearly, this is anarchy. Some say that this was done because they were sympathizers of NPA, especially daw iyong executive director na tinorture nila, na pinutol nila yung leeg from ear to ear. Well, I did ask the governor and he swore to me that person was not a member of the NPA, was not even left-leaning, he was just there to help the community run the school, teach the children, teach the farmers.

Mr. President, why are people who are not members of the police, who are not members of the military, going around with high-powered firearms, shooting people, torturing people, knocking on doors, extorting from citizens? Kawawa naman ang mga mangingisda at mga magsasaka. They tell me, noong araw, diyan sa sitio Han-ayan, noong wala iyong military, dumarating ang NPA at ini-extort din sila at tina-tax sila. Pag-alis ng NPA, darating ang paramilitary group at i-accuse sila na pro-NPA sila. Tino-torture rin sila, tina-tax din sila o ini-extort sila. Who do they turn to, Mr. President? Where is our government?

Mr. President, I think it is time that the Senate, as an institution, put its foot down and do our little bit in restoring the rule of law. Let us conduct an investigation. And the request of the governor is, let us conduct an investigation not here in Metro Manila, but there in Surigao del Sur so that he can bring the witnesses, the numerous witnesses, the numerous victims, the wives of those who have died to testify, to tell what has happened.

And these are the questions: No. 1, Why did the Armed Forces not do anything? No. 2, Why are the police not doing anything also when they have armed men knocking on doors of civilians?

Mr. President, I think it is time that we, as an institution, do our share. This situation is alarming; this situation seems like there is anarchy in Surigao del Sur.

Mr. President, I ask that the Senate act now; that the Senate, as an institution of government, do its part. Let us restore the rule of law in Surigao.

Thank you, Mr. President.