DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 8 Nov) – A member of the House Committee on Human Rights said he will push for the arrest and disarming of members of Bagani, a paramilitary group tagged in the killing of an Italian priest in Arakan, North Cotabato last year.
Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Neri Colmenares, a member of the House committee, made the pronouncement on the first day of the two-day congressional on-site hearing here investigating alleged human rights violations.
Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), was shot in the compound of Mother of Perpetual Help Parish October 17 last year by alleged members of Bagani, led by Jan Corbala, known as “Kumander Iring.”
But Rep. Karlo Nograles (1st Dist., Davao City), committee vice chair who was presiding the on-site hearing, told reporters that the committee has to hear the side of the military first, which will happen tomorrow (Friday), the second day of the hearing.
He said the committee first needs to ask the military commanders on the ground regarding the Bagani. “Number one, if there’s really a Bagani. Number two, who are the members of this Bagani group, and all other paramilitary units that we will be discussing in the course of the day,” he said.
“Let’s hear the government first. Maybe there have been actions already done, if none, then we will proceed accordingly,” he added.
Colmenares revealed that the House committee received a letter from the Department of National Defense, through Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, last Oct. 30 denying that the Bagani is under the military.
One of the witnesses invited during the hearing, Fr. Peter Geremia, Tentorio’s colleague in the PIME who is now assigned in Arakan, asked the committee to find a way in obtaining information about the Bagani, who trained them, who gave them firearms, and their whereabouts.
“If possible, please make ways to get the information. And the most important is to disarm them immediately,” Geremia addressed the committee.
The priest said that as far as he knows, the Bagani is a group of indigenous people whose original concept was to protect the ancestral domain using traditional weapons instead of high powered guns.
He mentioned that due to counterinsurgency, Bagani members became “multiplier forces” who were trained by the military and had joined recent armed encounters against rebels in the area.
According to Geremia, Senior Insp. Rolly Oranza, Arakan police chief, said in a recent dialogue with the community that the Bagani members are not authorized to carry firearms.
The priest quoted Oranza as saying, “If I see him, I will arrest him,” referring to Kumander Iring.
Geremia stressed that none of the military or police officials have claimed that Bagani is connected to government forces, but the community can see them walking around, holding firearms, and going with other armed men.
Another witness at the congressional hearing who claimed to be a member of the Bagani but asked not to be identified for security reasons said that one meeting he attended with Corbala presiding was held at the Bagani Special Force Camp that is within military premises, particularly at Sitio Kamanagan, Barangay Ganatan in Arakan. He said the place is a local camp of the Army’s 57th Infantry Battalion. It was allegedly in this meeting when the Baganis plotted to kill Tentorio.
In his affidavit signed last April 12, the witness said Corbala alias Kumander Iring is the known commander of the Bagani Special Force, which the witness said was organized by the elements of the 57IB.
Military officials are expected to air their side in tomorrow’s hearing.
Also present during the first day of congressional hearing were Representatives Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III (4th Dist., Quezon province), Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis Partylist, Luzviminda Ilagan of Gabriela Women’s Party and Antonio Tinio of ACT Teachers Partylist.
Rep. Rene Relampagos (Bohol, 1st Dist.), committee chair, arrived during the afternoon session.
Referred for the congressional hearing were 15 House resolutions, two privilege speeches and muto propio cases on the death of a B’laan family in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur, and on the illegal arrest and detention and torture of Abdul-Khan Balinting Ajid of Sumisip, Basilan. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro / MindaNews)