KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 11 Dec) – An estimated 500 human rights advocates and indigenous peoples protested Monday the killing of 10 tribal members (not eight as reported earlier) during an alleged encounter between the military and communist rebels in a remote village in South Cotabato province.
The protesters, who picketed the provincial capitol here since Sunday night, sought justice for the victims and lambasted the military, which claimed the victims killed on December 3 in Barangay Ned, Lake Sebu town were New People’s Army (NPA) members.
“The victims were civilians and not NPA members. They are opposing coal mining and coffee plantation operations in their village,” Jimmy Balbino, regional spokesperson of Kahugpungan sa mga Lumad sa Halayong Habagatang Mindanao (Federation of Indigenous Peoples in Far South Mindanao), told MindaNews.
Among those killed were Datu Victor Danyan, chairman of the T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimant Organization (TAMASCO), and three of his family members, said Sister Susan Bolanio, executive director of Oblates of Notre Dame-run Hesed Foundation, Inc.
The community of Datu Danyan in Datal Bonlangon is a mission area of Hesed Foundation for more than a decade now, helping the tribal members in their struggle against coffee plantation and coal mining as well as providing them farming livelihood alternatives.
Bolanio, who conducted a fact-finding mission in the area, said 10 other tribal members were missing following the encounter between the military and NPA rebels there.
“According to community members, there was a series of shellings of 105mm Howitzer cannons, followed by gunfire from different directions in Datal Bonlangon. This resulted to chaos that forced the community members to run for their lives,” the nun said.
Five community members were also wounded, including an eight-year-old child, during the alleged encounter that also displaced more than 200 residents, she said.
Bolanio said that a ranking NPA leader was killed during the military operation, but his remains was found distantly from where Datu Danyan was slain.
In a statement, Capt. Arvin Encinas, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said that “only seven NPA members” and two soldiers were slain during the encounter.
On Sunday afternoon, the protesters held a lighting rally in front of the 27th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Tupi town, South Cotabato. The 27IB was one of the two military commands that conducted the operation in the tribal community.
Sadrach Sabella, Karapatan regional spokesperson, described the death of Datu Danyan and the other tribal members as a “massacre.”
“We want justice for them. They were simple civilians who are fighting for their rights over their ancestral lands,” Sabella said.
Besides seeking justice for the 10 killed tribal members, the protesters also expressed their opposition to coal mining, the militarization of Lumad communities, the imposition of martial law in Mindanao and US imperialism, among others. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)