Print Version    Email to Friend
Bullish military tactics creating ghost villages

DAVAO (UCAN) : The murder of two tribal leaders in the southern Philippine province of Surigao del Sur has turned the areas inhabited by at least seven indigenous communities into virtual ghost villages.

“What are left now in the communities are our farm animals and empty houses,” Necias Avila, a council member of the village of Diatagon in Lianga town, said.

“We are afraid that our homes are now being looted,” Avila continued.

Thousands of indigenous villagers fled their homes in fear on September 2, a day after the murder of two tribal leaders, as well as the director of a school in Lianga.

On September 4, soldiers from the 75th Infantry Battalion announced over local radio that government troops had clashed with some 60 Communist rebels in one of the villages the day before.

However, the governor of Surigao del Sur, Johnny Pimentel, said the so-called rebels are actually created by the military. 

“(The military) created monsters. They are harassing communities they suspect of supporting Communist rebels,” Pimentel said in an interview.

The Rural Missionaries of The Philippines, an organisation set up by the Association of Major Women Religious Superiors of The Philippines to work in remote villages, vowed to fight on after their literacy and numeracy schools were attacked.

“Our teachers, our students and their parents, accused of being members of the rebels, have been sprayed with bullets and imprisoned on baseless accusations,” Missionary Sisters of Mary, Sister Maria Famita Somogod, commented.

“What we need to do is to fortify ourselves and make a unified stand. We have to be strong to demand prosecution,” she said.

“It isn’t enough that we rage about the militarisation of our communities. It isn’t enough that we condemn the impunity of paramilitary groups in the ancestral domains,” Sister Somogod said.

The sister added that the killings and attacks could only have been done by someone bereft of his soul.

On September 3, a 15-year-old Manobo boy from the village of Mendis, Pangantucan town, Bukidnon province, recounted to journalists how he witnessed the murder of his father, his two brothers and two relatives on August 18.

The military and the police claim that the incident was a legitimate encounter between government forces and the New People’s Army.

The boy, however, said his father and siblings even begged the soldiers to take them in as prisoners, instead of killing them.

“We do not simply call for the cessation of their heartless attacks. We seek, we act for justice,” Somogod said, adding that for several years “we have been targets of threats, harassment, of killings.”

Isidro Purisima, the brigade commander of the 402nd Infantry Brigade in Surigao del Sur, said the military cannot just arrest members of paramilitary groups, who are believed to be responsible for the atrocities.

In Manila, various groups expressed indignation over the human rights abuses in tribal communities in Mindanao.

Student advocates marched to the national headquarters of the military in Quezon City to denounce the murder of the director of a school, Emerico Samarca, and tribal leaders, Dionel Campos and Aurelio Sinzo, on September 1.

“The people’s lives are plagued with terror and horror by the regime’s fascist anti-insurgency campaign,” Charisse Banez, from the League of Filipino Students, said.

Protesters pelted the gate of the military camp with paint bombs and spray-painted the word berdugo (hangman) on it.

“The military horrors spread like wildfire in the countryside. They occupied communities, burned schools and killed activists and residents. Even children were not spared,” Banez pointed out.

The students demanded the immediate pull-out of the military in tribal communities and the disbandment of paramilitary groups.

Data from indigenous people’s group, Katribu, shows that since 2010, when Noynoy Aquino came to power, 68 tribal people have been victims of extrajudicial murder, while one remains missing.

Of the 68 tribal people killed, 53 came from Mindanao.

There were also 99 cases of harassment reported and 176 tribal leaders and members of tribal organisations facing what was termed trumped-up charges.

The group has also recorded nine incidents of the bombing of communities and farmlands, as well as 54 cases of forced evacuation in Mindanao, displacing more than 20,000 people.