Paramilitary group accused of harassing sitio folk in Bukidnon town

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/20 March) – Members of an alleged paramilitary group linked to an organization of ancestral domain claimants with mining interests are harassing residents of a sitio (sub-village) in San Fernando town, Bukidnon, a Lumad leader today said.

Residents of Barangay Dao, San Fernando town in Bukidnon are holding a "camp-out" at the capitol grounds in Malaybalay City on March 20, 2012 to protest the killing of barangay chair Jimmy Liguyon, who was slain on March 5, 2012. MindaNews photo by H. Marcos C. MordenoListino Mampaglas, a Manobo and sitio leader of sitio Kirangol, Barangay Dao in San Fernando, identified the group as the New Indigenous People’s Army Reform (Nipar) led by Aldy “Butsoy” Salusad.

Mampaglas said Salusad is a member of the San Fernando Matigsalug Tribal Datus (Sanmatrida), which has publicly admitted to inviting mining investors to operate in the area.

He alleged that Sanmatrida wanted to stop all gold panning activities in Kirangol to pave the way for its mining application.

He said “ayag-ayag” (gold panning activities) in Kirangol started at about the same time that logging entered the area, between the 1960s and 1970s.

“But it was stopped along with logging owing to protests led by the church,” he recalled in Cebuano.

Mampaglas was referring to the anti-logging barricades staged by the people of San Fernando in the late 1980s which led to the imposition of a logging moratorium in the province.

Gold panning activities resumed in Kirangol in 1996, he added.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Region 10 had issued a cease and desist order on the mining activities in Dao, saying these are all illegal.

In the order dated August 5, 2011 the MGB warned violators that they would be charged under the Revised Penal Code, Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and other environment laws.

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Quoting the Office of Civil Defense, the bureau said in the same order that the area being mined is prone to disaster.

In an interview last week over dxDB-Malaybalay, Sanmatrida chair Chris Estrella confirmed reports his group has a mining application in Kirangol and other areas of San Fernando.

Estrella denied that Salusad is a member of Sanmatrida. But he said that Salusad’s father, Benjamin “Nonong” Salusad, a New People’s Army rebel turned militiaman, is a member of the group.

Like his father, the younger Salusad is a former NPA rebel. He surrendered to the military in September 2010 before organizing Nipar.

Mampaglas said Nipar had at least 40 followers but he could not say how many of them were armed.

The sitio leader said that when he went back to Dao on Sunday, March 18, his aunt Monina Tiwanang warned him not to return to Kirangol. She quoted her as saying that Nipar members were looking for him.

He further alleged that shortly before the incident Sanmatrida presented a document to the barangay council of Dao that the tribal council of Kirangol had agreed to Sanmatrida’s mining application.

“They presented fake minutes. I wasn’t there in the supposed meeting. Only a thumb mark appeared on top of my name in the document. I know how to sign, why should I use a thumb mark?” he said in Cebuano.

Mampaglas added that on October 21 last year three Nipar members nabbed and tied him up for several hours.

“Ila kong gihulga nga ila lang kong buhian kung mopakita si Kapitan” (They threatened me that I would only be released if Kapitan would show up) he said, referring to Dao barangay chair Jimmy Liguyon who was shot to death on March 5 reportedly by Aldy Salusad.

According to the victim’s brother, Emelio Liguyon, Salusad and at least a dozen other armed men arrived at his brother’s house at around 6 p.m.

He said the suspect was armed with a baby Armalite rifle and asked if there were soldiers nearby, fearing a “misencounter” might occur.

Salusad then told the barangay official to move to another chair after which he shot the latter, Liguyon said, adding he immediately dashed outside the house upon hearing the gunfire.

Liguyon and some residents of Dao have been staying at the capitol grounds here since March 13. He said they will not return to their homes unless the provincial government can assure them of their safety.

Gov. Alex Calingasan, Vice Gov. Jose Ma. Zubiri Jr. and members of the provincial board will hold a dialogue tomorrow with the residents of Dao at the capitol. Military officials and Sanmatrida leaders are also expected to attend.

In the same interview with dxDB last week, Estrella denied that the younger Salusad was behind the killing.

But in a statement read this morning over dxDB, Nipar admitted to having killed Liguyon.

In owning up to the killing, Nipar accused the victim of being a supporter of the NPA, saying he often joined protest actions by militant groups.

It added Liguyon was a corrupt barangay official and a supporter of Alamara, an armed Lumad group.

Emelio Liguyon however said his brother was killed for refusing to recognize Sanmatrida and not endorsing its mining application. He alleged that [Aldy] Salusad warned the residents of Dao they would be killed too if they would not support Sanmatrida.

He added that Alamara is also a paramilitary group engaged in fighting the NPA. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNews)