SURIGAO DEL SUR, Philippines – Students of the Lumad school whose head was murdered by vigilantes told a senator on Thursday, October 1, that they knew who the suspects were because they belonged to their community.
In a Senate hearing conducted by Senator Teofisto Guingona III in Lianga town in Surigao de Sur, the Manobo kids blamed the military for creating para-military groups in their community, encouraging members to kill each other.
“The army is to blame for all of this. They make it look like it is a tribal war, but it is not,” Rodelyn Enriquez, a Grade 8 student at the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), said in the vernacular.
The students of Alcadev the in Lianga recounted to Guingona what happened in the early morning of September 1, when paramilitary men killed Alcadev executive director Emerito Samarca; Dionel Campos, chairman of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), and his cousin Bello Sinzo.
The killers were allegedly part of the Magahat Bagani forces, which have been linked to other incidents of violence in the province, Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel said.
“We have repeatedly asked the military to neutralize the Magahat Bagani forces,” Pimentel said.
“Then the Magahat said that we must evacuate because they would come back in two days and we would be massacred,” said Enriquez.
“So we evacuated with the bodies of Sir Emok, Jonel and Datu Bello,” said another student, Eljen Monter.
“We can pinpoint and identify the Magahat because they are our relatives. They are Manobo like us, they are our uncles and cousins. But because of the military, they were urged to kill us,” said 17-year old Mira Villar, a Grade 9 student.
The witnesses identified the suspects as Marcial Belandrez, Marcos Bocales, Garito Layno, and Bobby and Loloy Tejero. They are allegedly members of the Magahat.
Neglected by government
The students belied the military’s accusation that their school had been teaching them progressive and communist doctrines.
“We only have 8 subjects and they don’t include what they are accusing us of,” one student said.
“The government should be thankful that Sir Emok created that school. Our parents had been asking the government to provide us with complete elementary and high school, but they had not paid attention,” another student said.
“What Sir Emok did was to provide us with what the government failed to do. We were thankful that we had a school, but they accused us of being an NPA (New People’s Army) school,” another student said.
“We cannot accept the death of Sir Emok, he has no fault, he is not a bad person, that’s why it hurt us so much,” Villar said.
Eljen Monter said it was not the first time their school was harassed. In 2014, one of their leaders, Henry Alameda, was killed because he the military accused him of being an NPA.
“But that is farthest from the truth, Alameda helped us managed our communities,” Monter said.
‘Military is after our resources’
Those who spoke at the Senate hearing alleged that the military want to drive them away from their ancestral land so they could stop protecting its natural resourced.
“Our area is rich in resource. It is virgin forest. We believe that is the primary reason why they want to kill us,” Enriquez said.
By pitting Lumad against Lumad, Enriquez said, “they can easily come in and topple our people.” – Rappler.com