Lumad leaders in Caraga fear more reprisal from NPA

BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/27 October) — A day before the burial of slain Loreto, Agusan del Sur Mayor Dario Otaza and his son, Daryl, Lumad leaders here expressed fears they might suffer the same fate in the hands of the New People’s Army.

Datu Payad Sangkoan Ray Cervantes, chair of the Caraga Regional Council for the Indigenous Peoples, said many Lumad leaders are also making a stand against the NPA like the slain mayor.

Cervantes said Otaza was not the first Lumad leader killed by the rebels for opposing their expansion.

“If the NPA can murder Mayor Otaza who had bodyguards and influence, you can imagine what they will do to Lumad leaders who do not have the same resources,” he said.

He said a report from the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Conference said that 357 Lumad leaders were killed by NPA rebels from 1998 to 2008.

Mayor Otaza and his son, Daryl, were abducted and murdered by NPA rebels who posed as National Bureau of Investigation agents in Butuan City last Oct. 19.

They were scheduled to be buried Wednesday at the Uraya Memorial Gardens here.

Cervantes said many of the Lumad leaders are not armed like the Bagani warriors and have no ties with Datu Calpit Egua and the Tejero brothers who were tagged in the murder of director of a school for Lumad and two of his companions in Surigao del Sur last Sept. 1.

“Many of our leaders are only armed with and antiquated rifles and are no match to the well-armed NPA rebels,” he said.

Some 500 supporters of the slain mayor staged an anti-communist rally at the Guingona Park here on Tuesday.

Displaying placards asking for justice for the slain mayor and his son, the rallyists who were composed mostly of Lumads from Agusan del Sur denounced the NPA rebels for killing the two victims without the benefit of a trial.

“Is this what they call revolutionary justice? They did not even ask the victims to answer the charges that they were accused of,” Datu Makahinlo Gubat Marcos Gonzales said.

The NPA claimed responsibility for killing Otaza and his son “to give justice to the thousands of indigenous peoples and peasants terrorize by their tyranny in Loreto and surrounding municipalities in Agusan Del Sur.”

The rebel group also alleged Daryl was distributing and selling illegal drugs in Agusan del Sur.

Wilfredo Otaza, younger brother of the slain mayor, denied all these accusations. He said his brother was only working for the development of Loreto, a riverside town.

“My brother was murdered without being given the chance to answer these charges,” Wilfredo said. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)