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Military stood by as murders took place

MANILA (UCAN) : “I can testify that their ground commander was there,” Bishop Nereo Odchimar said in claiming that the government military troops stood aside while the Magahat-Bagani militia force is believed to have been in the act of shooting two tribal leaders and a teacher in the village of Han-ayan in Liangga town, Surigao del Sur, on September 1.

The bishop of Tandag said that he met the ground commander in the village and he does not believe a statement from a colonel, Benjamin Hao, made on September 13 on behalf of the military claiming that the murders took place as a result of conflict between the villagers and the paramilitary.

Hao said that an internal military investigation did not establish any direct or indirect connection to the military in the murders.

However, Bishop Odchimar said the report is not credible, because it contains inherent contradictions.

The bishop noted that one high-ranking military official denied that the military was even in the area at the time of the shootings, but he knows that it was, because he met the commander there.

The bishop is insisting that the ground commander told him that during the night of the harassment that the soldiers were there and they withdrew... about 100 metres. “Any commotion can be heard from that distance,” he pointed out.

Bishop Odchimar explained that the paramilitary forces in Mindanao are the creation of the military.

“Many years ago, the military organised the tribal people to fight the insurgency... It seems that the undertaking got out of hand, they can no longer control the Magahats and the Baganis,” the bishop said.

“The names of members of the Bagani have been cropping again and again during the time of harassments,” he continued.

“Many of us are wondering why they are not prosecuted,” he added, saying that the theory is that because the paramilitary groups are the creation of the military, the military cannot turn their backs on them.

Bishop Odchimar said that an internal investigation is not sufficient, as it is not credible. He wants an independent, nonpartisan investigation to be held.

A report compiled by Human Rights Watch and released on September 24 alleges that the Philippine military has repeatedly stood aside while paramilitary forces attack indigenous communities and schools in Mindanao.

“Paramilitaries in Mindanao have been terrorising tribal people, while the military at best does nothing,” Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of the human rights watchdog, said.

The New York-based organisation is claiming that paramilitary forces “have committed killings, torture, forced displacement and harassment of residents, students and educators with impunity.”

The group called on the Philippine government to act urgently to end the abuse and investigate the alleged complicity by military personnel.

The governor of Surigao del Sur, Johnny Pimentel, said, “The military created a monster.” He accused the military of creating and controlling the Magahat and Bagani Force.

“The administration (of the president, Noynoy Aquino) should not only be cracking down on the paramilitaries, but also on the military officers supporting them,” Robertson added.

Bishop Odchimar said mining operations on indigenous peoples’ lands are one of the causes of the attacks of tribal communities.

“They want the Lumads to vacate the area,” he said.

“It is difficult for the Lumads to leave. That is their ancestral land. (Mining companies) cannot just ease them out,” he pointed out.