San Fernando ‘bakwits’ refuse to go home; cite presence of paramilitary group

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/25 June) – Family members and supporters of a barangay captain in San Fernando town, Bukidnon who was killed last March 5 allegedly by members of a paramilitary group have rejected proposals to settle the conflict through the indigenous justice system, and renewed their demand for the arrest of the suspects.

In a dialogue today with officials led by provincial administrator Provo Antipasado Jr. and provincial police director Supt. Rustom Duran, residents of Barangay Dao who evacuated after the killing said they would not be safe in their place if the suspects were not arrested.

At least 43 families from Dao have encamped at the provincial capitol grounds in this city to escape alleged harassment by Aldy “Butsoy” Salusad.

Salusad is the leader of the New Indigenous People’s Army Reform and primary suspect in the killing of barangay chair Jimmy Liguyon.

“There were offered alternatives but they won’t accept it. That’s their decision. They have their own reasons for that. But the local government units, the police, the cultural community will continue doing what can be done to address the problem,” Antipasado told reporters after the dialogue, the third to be held by the capitol to convince the evacuees to return.

Backed by the Kaugalingong Sistema Igpasasindog te Lumadnong Ugpaan or Kasilo, the Liguyons, as in the previous dialogues, rejected the proposal that they will return to Dao while waiting for the arrest of Salusad.

Sharon Liguyon, the village chief’s widow, said her only request is for the arrest of Salusad.

“Is our security assured if we return?” son Randy Liguyon said, citing reports that Salusad was seen roaming in the village contrary to police reports it was difficult to pursue him.

Duran said they had conducted three operations against the suspect but failed to arrest him.

“We need a little understanding. It is not easy to arrest him as they are armed,” he said, adding, “we also need to protect ourselves.”

“The terrain is too difficult. We can’t reach it even on horseback. The police will just start to walk, Salusad will be out of sight already,” Insp. Gregorio Agregado said.

He said the police needed the help of the community to arrest Salusad. He told Benjamin “Nonong” Salusad, who attended the dialogue that he plays a key role as the father of the suspect.

The elder Salusad evaded the issue concerning his son’s arrest. Instead he blamed the Liguyons for joining Kasilo, which he accused to be linked to the New People’s Army, a charge that Kasilo has denied.

But several times during the dialogue, Salusad defended his son and even assured the Liguyons of safety if they go home.

Benjamin Salusad surrendered last year with 79 alleged rebels, and joined the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit. His son is also a former rebel.

Lt. Col. Jose. Ma. Cuerpo, commanding officer of the 8th infantry Battalion, denied they were coddling the suspect. He added that the latter, as quoted in a radio interview, never threatened the Liguyons.

Cuerpo said the elder Salusad had difficulty contacting his son.

Citing the supposed difficulty of arresting the suspect, most of the officials backed the idea of letting the municipal tribal council of San Fernando handle the case using the indigenous justice system.

San Fernando town councilor Richard Lingcoran, chair of the committee on indigenous peoples and vice chair of the committee on peace and order, said the tribal way of settlement is the best way to address the problem. He said the complainants need only to name a price or demand so that negotiations can start.

But Randy Liguyon said they would agree to a negotiation if it means the tribal council will convince Salusad to surrender and turn him over to the police to face charges.

Datu Ireneo Linsagan, one of those who surrendered with the elder Salusad said it is not good to fuse negotiators with the demand to turn the suspect over to the police.

Antipasado admitted that he asked Datu Magdaleno “Mayda” Pandian, the Lumad mandatory representative to the provincial board to initiate settlement of the conflict through traditional ways. But the Liguyons did not agree.

Pandian clarified to MindaNews that he will only study the possibility of the suggestion.

Antipasado said he was left with no option but to recommend to capitol to cut its support to the evacuees. He said since March 15 the provincial government has released a total of P75,961 to the evacuees forfood and lately clothing and educational assistance.

The Liguyons said they never wanted to stay too. They said would return to Dao if their security was assured.

The younger Salusad, who had admitted to killing Liguyon in an interview over DXDB in March, reportedly threatened to kill the victim’s family members and supporters.

This forced the Liguyons and their supporters to flee Dao and seek refuge in Malaybalay on March 14.

In a protest march Friday, the evacuees decried alleged government inaction on Liguyon’s case.

The protest was documented by representatives of the New York-based Human Rights Watch. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)