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Tribal leaders executed under nose of military

DAVAO (Mabuhay) : At around 4.00am on September 1, members of a paramilitary group barged into the Alcadev compound in sitio Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon, Liangga Town in Surigao Del Sur, waking the entire neighbourhood before aiming their guns at two tribal leaders, Dionel Campos and Aurelio Sinzo, and shooting them in front of the villagers.

A report from the rights group, Karapatan, says that Naty Castro, the provincial spokesperson, claimed that the third person to be murdered, Emerico Samarca, the director of the Alternative Learning Centre for Agriculture and Livelihood Development, was last seen being led away by the Mahagat-Bagani Force, a mercenary para-

military group, on  August 31.

His lifeless body was found inside the school with his hands tied. He had been stabbed.

Sister Francis Añover, the national coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of The Philippines, said, “We firmly believe that this is part of the comprehensive violation against Lumad communities and their alternative schools in northern and southern Mindanao, Socsargen and Caraga regions by state forces and their maverick paramilitary groups under the framework of the Aquino administration’s counter-insurgency programme, Oplan Bayanihan.”

UCAN reported that witnesses to the murders identified the culprits as members of the Mahagat-Bagani Force, which is also accused of murdering the high-profile Italian priest, Father Fausto Tentorio, in October 2011.

The Rural Missionaries said that the alternative school has been harassed by the military for the past five years in an attempt to shut it down.

Alternative learning schools fulfill an important need among indigenous communities, as they provide secondary education to impoverished young people from the Manabo, Banwaon, Higanon, Talaandig and Mamanwa peoples in Surigao and Agusan.

The school in Alcadev was established in 2004 and Sister Añover says that since that time the list of rights abuses against the staff and the indigenous people themselves has been growing longer by the day.

Karapatan says that two days prior to the killings, a 20-strong contingent from the 36th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Armed Forces, together with their Special Forces, had been coercing people in the village to evacuate, telling them that otherwise they would be massacred.

After the murders, about 1,000 of them fled and sought shelter in the local town centre.

The Rural Missionaries, a body set up by the Conference of Major Religious Superiors in Mindanao, called the murders the latest violation of the people’s right to life.

It adds that the more people there are striving to uplift the lives of the poorest of the Lumad indigenous people, who have been marginalised and neglected by the state, the more they are persecuted.

“It is the worst form of disgrace,” the group says.

Sister Añover says, “We encourage different sectors, especially the Church people, to join and support in condemning the continuous attack on Lumad communities and their alternative learning schools.”

She adds, “We challenge the Aquino government to immediately act and stop the political killings, harassment and militarisation, not only in Suriagao del Sur, but the whole Mindanao region.”

Sister Añover, who belongs to the Sisters of Mercy congregation, continued “We also urge the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of The Philippines to condole with the victims by condemning the offence and the implementation of Oplan Bayanihan programme.”

UCAN reported a spokesperson for the military, Alberto Caber, as saying that the government is not interested in meddling with what Mahagat-Bagani Paramilitary Force is doing.

But Castro retorted that since the military has done nothing about the three murders, this is plainly not the case.