MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/27 March) – Sometime last week the paramilitary group New Indigenous People’s Army Reform (Nipar) issued a statement owning up to the murder of Jimmy Liguyon, barangay chair of Dao, San Fernando town in Bukidnon and leader of another Lumad group. On Monday, March 26, Nipar’s acknowledged founder and rebel turncoat Aldy “Butsoy” Salusad declared over dxDB-Malaybalay that he indeed killed Liguyon.
That Salusad admitted to the crime is not the story but the fact that he did it publicly and on record. Such effrontery can only mean two things: either he is unaware of its implications on him as a suspect or he is confident he is beyond the reach of the law. The second leads to another scenario: he has powerful patrons who are pulling the strings in Dao, where illegal gold panning activities have thrived for decades.
Liguyon had refused to endorse the application of the San Fernando Matigsalug Tribal Datus (Sanmatrida) for a small-scale mining permit in Dao, a plan that would enable the group to control gold mining activities in the area. Arguably, he was worried that allowing Sanmatrida to enter Dao – with Salusad’s Nipar as its de facto armed force – will displace individual gold panners.
At the moment, nobody can say with certainty whether Salusad acted upon the prodding of his invisible patrons or on his own. What is clear for now is that Liguyon was a major stumbling block to whoever wishes to control the mining industry in Dao, if not the whole of San Fernando. If local residents evacuate due to fear, getting things done would be a lot easier.
Salusad is trying to obscure the real reason for the murder of Liguyon by harping on the victim’s alleged connection with the New People’s Army and Alamara, another Lumad armed group.
But this is where Salusad – or whoever coached him – contradicted himself. Alamara, just like Nipar, is a paramilitary group operating in San Fernando and neighboring areas and has been accused of harassing suspected NPA supporters. How can a person support two conflicting parties at the same time?
More disturbing is the fact that the authorities appear reluctant to go after Salusad and prosecute him. The March 21 dialogue facilitated by Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. failed to assure the residents of Dao that they can return safely to their homes. There has been no categorical statement from the military that they will protect the people being harassed by Nipar much less exert efforts to disarm the group.
The military’s relative silence on the issue is “understandable”. Benjamin “Nonong” Salusad, father of Aldy and also a former NPA rebel, has become a member of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit after his surrender last year. It would not want to displease the elder alusad and his followers. And since Nipar is anti-communist too, its existence is not a problem for the military.
The people of Dao therefore will have to endure living under constant threat from Nipar, whose members can enjoy virtual immunity from prosecution based on how authorities have treated the younger Salusad. After Liguyon, Butsoy has become the law in Dao. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)