KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 05 December) — Leaders of church, militant and environmental groups condemned the killing of a tribal chieftain and three other family members in an alleged encounter between communist rebels and the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato on Sunday afternoon, claiming the four were civilians and not members of the New People’s Army (NPA) as alleged by the military.
The military claimed Datu Victor Danyan of Sitio Datal, Barangay Ned in Lake Sebu, chair of the T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimant Organization (TAMASCO), his sons Tantan, Jr., and Artemio, and son-in-law Dodoy, were NPA members.
TAMASCO has been opposing coal mining and coffee plantation ventures in their village.
“The fatalities were all NPA members killed during the encounter with our troops,” 2Lt. Ranjan Palacio, spokesperson of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion, said in a radio interview.
Palacio said three other dead bodies were recovered on Monday.
Two soldiers were also killed — PFC Jovanie P. Tagactac and PFC Max Jay Lord Fernando – and three soldiers were injured during the firefight.
“We mourn what happened to Datu Victor,” said Fr. Ariel Destora, Social Action Center director of the Diocese of Marbel.
Destora said Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez has requested a meeting with officials of the 27th IB to clarify the matter.
The priest said the diocese is concerned about what’s happening in Ned, where an estimated 211 million metric tons of coal are believed to sit.
Recently, the diocesan clergy wrote a letter to provincial legislators who are currently discussing the application of the proponents, to reject the project.
The Department of Energy issued in 1999 the coal operating contracts to Daguma Agro-Minerals, Inc. and Sultan Energy Philippines Corp., the letter said.
Chinkie Peliño-Golle, executive director of environment group Interface Development Interventions, described the slain tribal leader “as a man of integrity.”
“He is one of the IP (indigenous peoples) leaders who inspired me to work on upholding environmental and social justice. I’ve never heard him ask for anything but only to own back and manage their lands,” she said on social media.
“Datu Vic is not a NPA member. There was even an assurance that their community will not be touched because he is not part or a member of the NPA,” Golle said.
Golle said the military had earlier assured Sister Susan Bolanio, executive director of OND HESED Foundation, Inc. and member of the Regional Peace and Order Council, that they would not touch Datu Vic as they were convinced he was not a member of the NPA.
Ryan Lariba, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Mindanao coordinator, said what happened Sunday was a “massacre that should be blamed on President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to wage an all-out war against the communist rebels.”
Duterte issued the order after terminating the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-New People’s Army.
Lariba said the victims were “civilians opposing the coal mining and coffee plantation venture in Barangay Ned.”
“There are NPA rebels operating in the area but those killed were not communist rebels but civilians,” Lariba said.
A press release issued by Capt. Gary Dida, Civil Military Operations Officer of the 1002nd Infantry Brigade said troops from the 27th IB were verifying reports from residents in Barangay Ned about the alleged presence of armed men when they “encountered undetermined number of armed NPA terrorist (sic)” Sunday afternoon that led to the killing of “four NPA terrorists” and the recovery of one carbine, two homemade shotguns, one locally made 9-mm machine pistol.
“The NPA’s who are terrorizing our country shall be dealt with according to the provisions of the Law,” Dida quoted Colonel Roberto Ancan, chief of the 1002nd Brigade as saying.
Dida’s press release also quoted Lt. Col. Benjamin Leander, 27th IB chief, as having urged the wounded NPA and those in hiding to “peacefully surrender to the folds of law” and avail of the Comprehensive Local Integration Program of the local government.
In a telephone interview Monday, Dida said military operations have been intensified to thwart possible NPA attacks even before President Rodrigo Duterte branded the communist group as terrorists and later terminated the peace talks. (Bong S. Sarmiento with a report from Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)