Church leaders call for disbandment of paramilitary groups in Surigao Sur

TANDAG CITY (MindaNews / 2 October) – Church leaders reiterated their calls for the disbandment and disarming of paramilitary groups that are being accused of sowing terror in Lumad communities in Surigao del Sur suspected to be sympathetic to the New People’s Army.

Speaking at the Senate public hearing here on Friday, Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar said the killings and harassment attributed to these groups caused the evacuation last month of around 3,000 individuals from Barangay Diatagon and neighboring areas.

The evacuees have sought refuge at the provincial sports complex since Sept. 1. They fled on the same day after members of a paramilitary called Bagani/Magahat allegedly killed three Lumad leaders in Km 16, Sitio Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

The victims were identified as Dionel Campos, Bello Sinzo and Emerito Samarca.

Witnesses said the killers were members of the Magahat led by Loloy Tejero, Bobby Tejero and Garito Layno.

Odchimar, who said he was voicing the sentiment not only of the Catholic Church but also of other Christian denominations, cited the problem about paramilitary groups has been around since 2005.

Aside from Odchimar, also present during the hearing that started Thursday were Catholic priests and nuns and leaders of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.

“We have to go to the root of the evacuation which is the harassment by these armed groups,” the bishop said.

Sr. Stella Matutina, a Benedictine nun, also urged the Senate to address the problem of displacement in the province.

“Let’s face the real problem…. Give justice for those killed because they’re not NPAs,” she said.

The nun added that three mothers have given birth at the evacuation center and 52 more were about to give birth.

“They want to go back. We want help and immediate action from you, Senators. We want to emphasize the presence of armed groups,” she said.

Sr. Matutina said they received reports that more people have left their homes, referring to the fresh wave of evacuees from Barangay Mahaba in Marihatag town that fled Thursday due to the alleged presence of paramilitary elements in their place. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)