Military trained bagani tribal warriors – say NBI agent, ex-gov Piñol

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 May) – A lawyer of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) revealed before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that the military was the one that trained the baganis (tribal warriors) so they could help in the counter-insurgency campaign.

Even former North Cotabato governor Emmanuel Piñol corroborated the NBI lawyer’s statement, but he stressed that the purpose of the bagani is to defend the territories of the indigenous people.

He admitted that the baganis were trained during his term as governor, from 1998 to 2007.

Wenceslao Galendez, agent of the NBI’s North Eastern Mindanao Office based in Cagayan de Oro City, told the CHR panel that the bagani was led by Roelito Ayupat Gawilan, who is the barangay captain of Barangay Sinoda in Kitaotao, Bukidnon.

The CHR, led by chair Loretta Rosales, was in the city on May 22 to 24 for a three-day inquiry on the killing of Italian missionary Fausto Tentorio in Arakan, North Cotabato in October 2011.

“In our report, the term bagani, the lumad for warriors, was created, organized by the 73rd Infantry Battalion,” Galendez said.

Citing a report obtained by the CHR, Rosales asked Galendez: “So who organized this group, the military?”

“Yes your honor,” the NBI agent confirmed.

Galendez added that the bagani was organized to assist the military in its counter-insurgency campaign.

Gawilan, who earlier appeared during the public inquiry on May 23, denied the accusation that he is the leader of the bagani group. He insisted he is a datu, not a bagani.

But Gawilan, who is the chair of the Federation of the Matigsalug and Manobo Council of Elders (FEMMATRICS), admitted that there are some members of his tribe who are part of the bagani.

He added that there are bagani members who are on the side of the military and there are those who are on the side of the New People’s Army (NPA). Gawilan said those who are on the side of the NPAs are known as “pulang bagani” (red warrior).

When asked by CHR Commissioner Norberto dela Cruz who is the leader of the bagani, Gawilan responded: “It depends. There are ‘pulang baganis,’ and there are baganis with the military.”

The tribal leader was referring to the NPA’s Pulang Bagani Command headed by Leoncio Pitao, also known as Commander Parago.

When Dela Cruz further asked what camp Gawilan belongs, the latter answered: “I am the datu of the tribe. The bagani is different from the datu.”

But Gawilan admitted that some baganis were trained to become members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu).

He added that most of the bagani members who are also Cafgu members were the ones whose family members were killed by the NPA.

Bagani doesn’t exist?

Brig. Gen. Cesar Sedillo, former commander of the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade, said the lumad Cafgu members are not bagani.

“If a tribes folk became a member of the Cafgu, some people refer to them as bagani. They’re not,” Sedillo told the CHR panel. “The Cafgu is not associated with the bagani. It’s just incidental,” he added.

Arakan is part of the 602IB’s area of responsibility.

Sedillo further said that there are private armed groups in the remote areas who are pro-NPA and there are those who are against the communist rebel group.

But during a congressional inquiry on Tentorio’s killing in November last year, Sedillo said he was uncertain if bagani exists. He explained that during his term as commander of 602IB, which is based in Carmen, North Cotabato, there was no formal organization such as the bagani.

“But in particular places wherein peace and order situation is affected, these people, indeed, formed certain activities to protect themselves,” he said then.

At the same inquiry, a witness disclosed that he had attended a meeting with Jun Corbala, the alleged bagani leader, at Sitio Kamanagan, Barangay Ganatan in Arakan. The witness 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 April 12 last year, the witness, whose identity was not revealed for security reasons, said Corbala alias Commander Iring is the known commander of the Bagani Special Force, which the witness said was organized by the elements of the 57IB.

NPA, military as suspects

For Piñol, there are only two groups that could be blamed for the killing of Tentorio because Arakan is controlled by two armed groups – the military and the NPA.

Piñol said it is impossible for the killers to escape without the knowledge of the military or the NPA. He said that if the military says they didn’t notice the killers escape, it means that they have no control over Arakan. And vice versa.

The former governor also chided the military for denying the existence of the bagani. “What they’re saying that the military doesn’t know the military, is a big lie,” he stressed.

The baganis, Piñol said, were actually trained by the military.

“But the intention was to help the tribal people protect their villages. Whether they were used outside their villages is beyond me,” he said.

Piñol admitted that he used the province’s peace and order funds to help organize the baganis. “We can’t deny this fact; I was there. They were trained in Barangay Saging in Makilala town, inside a Special Froces camp. And I was there during the training,” he revealed.

Escaped death

On October 6, 2003 during one of Tentorio’s visits to the Lumads of Kitaotao in Bukidnon, portions of which are part of the parish of Arakan, the Italian priest narrowly escaped death when armed men believed to be bagani members were reportedly hunting him down.

He left the parish of Arakan at 8 a.m. with four staff members on his way to Kitaotao.

“After two hours of motorcycle and horseback riding, we reached New Kabalantian, Kitaotao, Bukidnon where some people approached me and told me that armed men were waiting for me in Barangay Sagundanon, Kitaotao, Bukidnon, three kilometers ahead where we were supposed to pass. They told me that these men belong to the group called Bagani, that they come from outside the area, and that their intention was to harm me, specifically by throwing hand grenades at me while I am passing by,” Tentorio said in his account of the incident in the website of his congregation, the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).

“When night came, at around 7:00 o’clock, I went to sleep in a small lumad hut with around 15 people. At about 7:30 p.m. the people spotted few baganis approaching the village, guided by Tata and Abing Gawilan, the sons of the kagawad who told me that there was nothing to worry about. They went straight to the hut that was next to where we were and asked information about Isidro Indao (vice chair of Tikulpa, or the Tinananon-Kulamanon Lumadnong Panaghiusa) and his whereabouts,” he wrote.

The armed men also asked where Fr. Tentorio was. The villagers denied he was around and asked the armed men why they were looking for the priest. “Will you kill him?”

One of the bagani members reportedly replied, “No, we will just arrest him and bring him to our superior.”

“Worried of the possible consequences, the people denied to them that I was there. They told me and my companions to stay quiet in the house and hide there because the baganis were looking for me. We decided to listen to their advice because to try to run would have been too dangerous. We did not know how many of them were there, and where they were hiding,” the priest wrote.