CHR-12 starts probe on ‘encounter’ that killed 9 Lumads in South Cotabato

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 14 March) — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Region 12 has started its investigation into the alleged encounter between government troops and suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato last December that left nine tribal residents dead.

Lawyer Erlan Deluvio, CHR Region 12 director, said Wednesday the move was based on complaints filed by the families of the victims who claimed that the supposed encounter was actually a “massacre” perpetrated by troops under the 27th and 33rd Infantry Battalions (IB).

Provincial road leading to Barangay Ned in Lake Sebu from Sto. Niño, South Cotabato. File photo by KEITH BACONGCO

The clash, which also killed two troopers from the 27IB, happened on Dec. 3 in Sitio Datal Bonlangon, Barangay Ned in Lake Sebu.

The official said they already issued subpoenas to former 27IB commanding officer Lt. Col. Benjamin Leander and 33IB commander Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc to answer the complaints.

The agency has given the Army officials at least 10 days to submit their counter-affidavits, he said.

“They were charged with massacre and many other violations, including the provisions of the international humanitarian law, principle of distinction, principle of proportionality and principle of non-discrimination,” he said in a radio interview.

Deluvio said the complainants submitted affidavits of several witnesses and results of the autopsy earlier conducted on the nine fatalities, which included prominent T’boli-Manobo tribal leader Datu Victor Danyan.

The victims were all members of the T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimants Organization, which is based in Sitio Datal Bonlangon.

The group has been opposing the expansion of a Consunji-owned coffee plantation, which covers portions of their claimed ancestral domain.

Cabunoc earlier said the incident was a legitimate encounter and maintained that the nine fatalities were all NPA members.

He said Sitio Datal Bonlangon is reportedly a part of an NPA enclave, which stretches to the boundary of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces.

The Army official said they welcome complaints and calls for investigation on the incident and stressed that they are “more than willing to face them.” (MindaNews)