MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/01 August) – After nearly five months, families from Barangay Dao in San Fernando town, Bukidnon who had evacuated here for fear of their lives, headed back to their homes with assurances from the tribal councils for their safety.
The 135 evacuees, who had encamped at the capitol grounds since March 14, rode back home around 1:30pm today aboard four dump trucks provided by the provincial and municipal governments.
The evacuees had demanded the arrest of Aldy “Butchoy” Salusad, the main suspect in the killing of Dao village chief Jimmy Liguyon on March 5.
Leah Tumbalang, spokesperson of the evacuees clarified to MindaNews via telephone this does not mean they were giving up their search for justice for Liguyon’s death.
Tumbalang said the Liguyon family considered the welfare of the children in agreeing to return home.
Provo Antipasado, provincial administrator, said via telephone the military, police and municipal government have also assured the residents of their safety in Dao.
The provincial government announced the release of P15,000 each per family with a third of it to be handed in cash. The rest will be in the form of farm inputs as support to their livelihood.
In a dialogue in June, the evacuees had rejected proposals to settle the conflict through the indigenous justice system, and renewed their demand for the arrest of the suspects who are said to be members of the paramilitary New Indigenous People’s Army Reform led by Salusad.
They said they would not be safe in Dao with the suspects still roaming around freely and allegedly harassing them.
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 arrest him.
Provincial police director Supt. Rustom Duran, said they had conducted three operations against the suspect but failed to arrest him.
Duran said they had problems pursuing the suspects as “they were armed.”
Salusad, like his father Benjamin Salusad, is a former New People’s Army (NPA) rebel. The elder Salusad joined the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit after his surrender last year.
During the dialogue in June police had asked the militiaman to convince his son to surrender but he evaded talking about it. Instead he defended his son and blamed the Liguyons for joining Kasilo, a Lumad organization allegedly linked with the NPA.
Witnesses alleged that Liguyon was killed for refusing to endorse the mining application of Salusad’s group in Dao, where small-scale mining activities have thrived. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)