KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/13 January) – A forensics expert and family members of the eight Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) killed last month in Barangay Ned, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato belied Saturday the military’s claim that the victims died in an encounter.
“Ang lupok halin sa military (The gunfire came from the military),” Lita Wali, sister of Datu Victor Danyan, said in a press briefing.
Dr. Benito Molino, a forensics expert who joined a fact-finding mission on January 11 and 12 said at least 300 empty and live shells of M14 and M16 rifles were recovered from the various sites where the soldiers apparently fired their weapons.
“Based on physical evidence…it appears that there was no encounter,” Molino said.
Danyan, chair of the Taboli-Manobo S’daf Claimants Organization (TAMASCO), was killed on December 3 in Barangay Ned’s Sitio Datal Bonlangon, which remained a ghost town as the 22 households there have remained at an evacuation center more than a month after the bloody incident.
Besides the tribal leader, also killed were his sons Artemio and Victor Jr, son-in-law Pato Ceraldo, Samuel Angkoy, Mating Balabagan-Bantal, Toto Diamante and Toto Danyan.
TAMASCO is a people’s organization formed in 2006 to reclaim the tribe’s almost 1,700-hectare ancestral domain planted with coffee by Silvicultural Industries, Inc.
The company was granted a 25-year Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) 22, which expired on December 21, 2016.
It applied for a renewal but TAMASCO did not give its consent during the Free and Prior Informed Consent process facilitated by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.
TAMASCO, with the help of various church and legal rights groups, later discovered that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources approved another IFMA 18-2007 covering the same land.
Aside from struggling to reclaim their land planted with coffee, tribal leader Danyan and his group also opposed the entry of coal mining operations in their ancestral land.
Lita Wali cried during the press briefing as she narrated what happened on December 3.
“I was cooking lunch. We heard volleys of gunshots and my brother rushed out of the house to see what’s happening. He was gunned down. There was no exchange of gunfire,” Wali, who admitted that the elder Danyan was carrying a home-made gun, said in Ilonggo.
The fact-finding team brought Wali and several family members to the press briefing where they demanded justice for the victims.
“We will continue the fight for our ancestral land even with the death of my father,” said Tarcela, whose husband Pato Ceraldo was also killed during the military operation.
“We want justice for the victims,” Tarcela said.
Sister Susan Bolanio, executive director of the Oblate of Notre Dame-run Hesed Foundation, Inc., believed that the tribal leader was killed for leading the struggle to reclaim their ancestral land.
“He was deliberately targeted to silence dissent in the area,” said Bolanio, whose foundation has been helping Danyan’s community for two decades.
The fact-finding mission was composed of Hesed Foundation, Convergence of Initiatives for Environmental Justice, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, Philippine Miserior Partnership, Inc., Legal Rights Center, Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, Alternative Law Group, Center for Energy Ecology and Development, and Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, among others.
The mission recommended a deeper investigation into the incident, including the conduct of a national public inquiry, to render justice to the victims.
In a statement issued on December 5, Captain Arvin Encinas, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said soldiers from the 33rd Infantry Battalion (IB) and 27th IB “seized the largest New People’s Army (NPA) guerilla base in the boundary between South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces after a two-pronged attack that commenced dawn of December 3.”
The firefight erupted at past noon when NPA terrorists engaged the troops of 27IB “near a terrorist cave hideout” in Sitio Datal Bonglangon, Encinas said.
Two soldiers from 27IB paid the ultimate sacrifice in the initial clash, while seven insurgents were killed in the running gunbattle that ensued, he added.
At the press briefing Saturday noon, Datu Dande Danyan, a relative of the slain tribal leader and now the TAMASCO chair, denied that the victims were communist rebels. (MindaNews)