MALAYBALAY CITY (April 7, 2011) – Everyone must have heaved a sigh of relief after the six-day hostage drama in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur that started on April Fool’s Day ended peacefully. But some circumstances need serious attention. First, it was the second of its kind to happen in the same town and involved relatives of the leader of the first hostage-taking incident. Second, in both instances the perpetrators of the cowardly acts are said to be Manobo tribesmen belonging to paramilitary groups.
In an emailed statement, a Lumad organization called Kalumaran identified the hostage takers as members of the paramilitary Lumadnong Pakigbisog sa Caraga or Lupaca led by Ondo Perez, a former member of the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit who, interestingly, is in jail for taking hostage 79 civilians in 2009.
As reports said, the perpetrators demanded the release of Perez, arguing he was not getting fair treatment in the case filed against him. What made them think the government would give in to their demand by doing exactly the same crime that Perez did? Such reckless miscalculation can only be due to arrogance nurtured by the de facto power they wield in the community as informal extensions of the security forces that sponsor them. Imbued with self-importance by AFP-issued firearms, they thought they could impose their will on the civil branch by victimizing hapless teachers and students and get away with it.
Indeed, the hostage takers could not have shown such audacity if only their past abuses were not condoned. As noted by Kalumaran, Lupaca had committed human rights violations even before the hostage drama and their atrocities were even cited in a report by a United Nations Special Rapporteur. Kalumaran must be referring to Mr. Philip Alston who investigated human rights abuses committed during the Arroyo administration.
Although it ended without the loss of innocent lives, the Properidad hostage crisis clearly showed the menace posed by forming and arming undisciplined militiamen. The military in particular cannot just ignore this incident simply because it deems Lupaca or any other paramilitary group for that matter as a vital layer of defense against rebellion in the countryside. Of what use is tactical gain if the government is going to lose politically owing to the terroristic acts of these half-baked soldiers?
And yes, sue them for terrorism under the Human Security Act, if only to prove that the law is not mainly intended to muzzle dissent as feared by militant groups.
The Prosperidad hostage crisis brings to mind another incident in the early 1990s involving a Lumad Cafgu in San Luis, Agusan del Sur. That Cafgu issued threats to Dr. Henry Plaza after the physician reportedly refused to allow him to ride his pickup truck, an incident that landed in national papers. If I recall right, Dr. Plaza was the first doctor to respond to then health secretary Juan Flavier’s Doctor to the Barrios Program.
Unfortunately, the military made things worse by digging into Dr. Plaza’s past as a Martial Law era activist in a clear bid to discredit him, a clear indication that it was more concerned with protecting its trigger-happy alter-ego. Good heavens, what made the military think a petty Cafgu was much more important than a doctor in a long neglected, impoverished area like San Luis?
The military should deal with the same question now. What’s more important: pleasing those hostage takers or keeping the services of school teachers who must be having second thoughts now about serving in the place where they were abducted? A fitting test case for the military’s so-called peace and development framework in addressing the 42-year-old communist rebellion. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])