ESPERANZA, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 20 June) – Two Higaonon tribal leaders and three others were allegedly executed by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in an attack here Tuesday morning as they also burned down heavy equipment of a timber company, police said.
Senior Insp. Nelven Tuan Rufon, municipal police chief, quoted eyewitnesses as saying that around 100 NPA guerillas stormed two different barangays.
The rebels first arrived at Sitio Kamarangan, Purok 7 of Barangay Hawilian and reportedly took lumad leaders Crispolo Linunsag, aka Datu Mangkuryente, and Anghel Cozan, aka Ingko Boknit. Rufon said they were caretakers of the rubber plantation owned by Mayor Leonida Manpatilan.
“Both of the men were executed with their arms tied behind their back,” the police chief said.
Rufon said the rebels then proceeded to Purok 5 of Barangay Milagros and killed three more.
The victims were identified as Felipe Hadraque, reportedly a former soldier with the Army’s 29th Infantry Battalion who worked as caretaker of the Shannaline wood company until his death, and Jun Tria and Reme Politan, who happened to be near the area when the NPAs arrived.
Police reports revealed that the rebels also burned down four bulldozers, three pay loaders and a road grader owned by Shannaline.
Manpatilan expressed her disbelief on the incident, saying they were shocked upon hearing the report.
“This is the first time after more than 20 years that such incident happened here in our town. I was really saddened by the incident and we are now extending all support towards the grieving families,” the mayor said.
Manpatilan clarified that the two tribal leaders killed in Barangay Hawilian were not workers in their rubber plantation. “Those two were actually just living within the plantation area and near where the heavy equipment were parked,” she said.
When the rebels came in the area, they already had names of certain people they were looking for, according to a relative of one the Higaonon leaders who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.
Among those reportedly sought by the NPA guerillas was Datu Tawan-tawan, but he was in Cabadbaran City in Agusan del Norte at that time. They instead took his brother, Datu Mangkuryente. Datu Tawan-tawan, according to the source, was a member of hardline anti-communist group known as the Wild Dogs, which was headed by the late Lavi Manpatilan, also known as Datu Mansaulog among the Higaonons, back in the 1980s. Lavi is the current mayor’s cousin-in-law.
The town of Esperanza, claimed the source, was the only town in Agusan del Sur that was not penetrated by the NPA until the time of Mayor Deo Manpatilan, husband of the current mayor. But when Deo died of a disease last year, the community reportedly became lenient with their security.
Col. Gregory Cayetano, commanding officer of the 401st Infantry Brigade who had a command conference with the town council, cited two reasons for the NPA attack – to show that the NPA can now penetrate the town, and to punish Shannaline for not giving in to the rebel group’s extortion demands.
“This town has held its ground for several years in its hardline stand against communism, but weakened since the death of its leader, Deo Manpatilan,” the military official said.
Lt. Col. Jose Leonard Gille, commander of the Army’s 26th Infantry Battalion, said that the rebels used three vehicles from Butuan City.
“They deceived the owners of the vehicles that they will rent it to transport agricultural products in Barangay Tungao, but the drivers were asked to get out of the vehicles when they reached the town of Las Nieves (in neighboring Agusan del Norte),” Gille said. The rest of the rebels were then picked up between the border of Agusan del Sur and Agusan del Norte, he added.
Gille said that the rebel group was a combined force of Guerilla Front 88 and 4A.
In a radio interview in Butuan City Wednesday evening, Jorge Madlos aka Ka Oris, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front in Mindanao
In a Butuan City radio interview Wednesday evening, Jorge Madlos known as Ka Oris, Spokesperson for the National Democratic Front (NDF) in Mindanao, denied the reports, saying it was a legitimate encounter between NPA forces and those who died, whom he claimed were members of Wild Dogs.
But this claim was refuted by eyewitness and from police photographs showing the victims with their hands tied behind their backs.