A year sans justice for 7 dead kin, SouthCot tribe wants area restricted from armed actors

LAKE SEBU, South Cotabato (MindaNews / 3 Dec) – A tribal group in a remote village here urged the military, communist rebels and company security guards to stay away from their community as they continue the search for justice for the seven tribal members killed in a military operation exactly a year ago today, December 3.

Members of militant and indigenous peoples’ groups in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato stage a protest on Monday (3 December 2018) the killing a year ago of seven tribal members outside a military camp. (Bong Sarmiento / MindaNews)

Dande Dinyan, chairperson of the T’boli Manobo S’daf Claimants Organization (TAMASCO), said the tribe continues to thirst for justice for the deaths of Datu Victor Danyan Sr., the previous TAMASCO chair, his two sons, a son-in-law and three other relatives.

In a statement written in Filipino, Dinyan lamented “there was no deeper investigation on the case.”

He said they want state and non-state armed actors to stay away from their community to pave the way for a thorough probe not just of the killings but also other excesses that have occurred in their community over the years.

“Our human rights have been trampled for a long time…We are calling on the government to conduct a serious investigation of all the things that happened in our community, including the deaths of Datu Victor and company,” Dinyan said.

The military had claimed that the slain tribal members were members of the New People’s Army killed in a legitimate joint military operation in the far-flung village of Ned.

Dinyan, a relative of the slain tribal leader, strongly belied those killed were communist rebels.

On the first anniversary of the killings, Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, commander of the 33rd Infantry Battalion based in Sultan Kudarat province, reiterated that Danyan was in cahoots with the communist rebels.

“I will never falter in performing my constitutional mandate of protecting the people against armed aggression by the communist terrorist NPA and their auxiliary forces like the group of Victor Danyan,” he said in a text message.

“If Datu Victor was fighting for his rights, I am also obliged to defend the plantation workers of Dawang Coffee Plantation against the planned attack by the NPA terrorists who supported Victor’s armed followers in seizing lands from Consunji,” the official added.

Citing their investigation on the case, Erlan Deluvio, director of the Commission on Human Rights-12, said that Cabunoc and Lt. Col. Benjamin Leander, then commander of the 27IB based in South Cotabato, were “liable for human rights violations.”

“[They are] liable for human rights violations for their utter failure to exert earnest efforts in distinguishing combatants from non-combatants under the principles of distinction of International Humanitarian Law,” Deluvio said in a resolution dated last October 5 and obtained only today, December 3.

TAMASCO was apparently unaware that the CHR-12 has issued a resolution, which the military officers sought for reconsideration.

The Task Force TAMASCO, a coalition of human rights organizations and indigenous peoples rights’ advocates, including the Oblates of Notre Dame-run Hesed Foundation, Inc., called for the prosecution of officials and members of the 27th and 33rd Infantry Battalions for the deaths of Danyan and company.

“They have long struggled and protested against land grabbing and the corporate abuse on their land. They were not rebels. They were Lumads (indigenous peoples) asserting their rights under the law,” the task force said in a statement.

According to the task force, TAMASCO did not give its consent for the renewal of the Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) No. 22 awarded to Silvicultural Industries, Inc. (SII), a Consunji-owned company engaged in coffee plantation.

Sister Susan Bolanio, Hesed Foundation executive director, said the tribe continues to mourn the death and the lack of justice for the victims.

“It’s painful to remember. It makes me cry again,” the nun said in a Facebook post.

Bolanio described the slain tribal leader “as a well-meaning person who fought to reclaim the land of their ancestors.”

For over a decade, the Hesed Foundation has been assisting the tribe with livelihood and development projects. (Bong Sarmiento / MindaNews)