Militants renew calls for military pullout in Davao Norte

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 6 Sept) – A militant group renewed its call for President Rodrigo R. Duterte to pull out military troops in the hinterland municipalities of Davao del Norte, lift martial law in Mindanao, and recant his previous pronouncement for the soldiers to attack lumad schools, following the death of 19-year-old Obillo Bay-ao after he was allegedly gunned down by members of a paramilitary group in the municipality of Talaingod Tuesday morning.

In an interview on Wednesday, Karapatan-Southern Mindanao secretary general Sheena Duazo sad that attacks against lumad communities allegedly worsened after Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao last May 23 and threatened to bomb schools operated by the lumads associated with the communists.

But Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin, assistant commander of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said they welcome investigation and complaint against any members of the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU).

He maintained they cannot leave the hinterlands because they were “constitutionally” mandated to protect the communities there and assured that the soldiers will not abuse their authority against members of the communities.

Lorena Bay-ao Mandacawa, the aunt of the slain Grade 6 student at the lumad-run Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC), lamented her nephew was killed allegedly by cousins Ben and Joven Salangani, the victim’s own uncles, that Tuesday morning.

She said Obillo did not make it to his small abaca farm as he was shot several times by the suspects and died before reaching the Davao Region Hospital in Apokon, Tagum City.

Mandacawa said travel time from Talaingod to Apokon is four hours.

Duazo said the paramilitary groups and military troops continue to harass the lumad communities in the hinterlands by accusing them as members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Instead of threatening the lumad schools, she suggested that these institutions must be supported, as they nurture the lumad children to become the next leaders and teachers of their communities.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Save Our Schools Network spokesperson Rius Valle said Ben is an active member of CAFGU and accused Joven as member of the paramilitary group Alamara who is responsible for the killing of Alibando Tingkas, 15-year-old student of Salugpongan, last January 2016.

He said Bay-ao’s school, STTICLC, is often targeted by military operations, forcing students and their parents to evacuate since 2008.

Valle said he was among the 200 evacuees who fled homes last July following the threat of Alamara to burn down Salugpongan. They returned home in August.

He said the suspects are known members of the paramilitary groups under the 60th Infantry Battalion.

“The killing of one of our students, Obillo Bay-ao, by the AFP-trained and controlled paramilitary only goes to show that lumad killings continue under President Duterte’s regime … revealing his fascist character,” Valle said.

But Datuin denied the accusation, claiming that the suspects were assigned in a different barangay in Talaingod at the time of the incident. He instead blamed a “lawless armed group” for Bay-ao’s death.

He did not specify what group, saying investigation is still ongoing.

Maj. Ezra Balagtey, Eastern Mindanao Command public information officer, said those responsible for Bay-ao’s death were “not part of the military organization neither listed in the roster of CAFGU” and vowed they will assist the police in investigating and finding justice for the victim.

“We do not tolerate wanton killing, particularly peasants. It is our duty to protect them,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)