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Lies more lies and damned lies

TANDAG (Mabuhay) : Over 4,000 people, mostly peasant farmers, members of indigenous communities, human rights advocates, priests and sisters marched through the streets of Butuan City on October 10 to mark the 40th day since three people were brutally and cold-bloodedly murdered by paramilitary forces in Surigao del Sur on September 1.

UCAN reported that the rally called on the authorities to act, saying that although the prime suspects in the murder have been named, no one has yet been arrested.

A statement issued by the group describes the murders as planned and systematic, in order to instill fear, silence the people and drive out communities and schools to clear the way for mining companies to move in.

On the same day, another rally was held in Manila to express indignation and disgust at the continuing injustice and ongoing human rights violations being perpetrated against the indigenous people of Mindanao.

“The indigenous communities can still literally feel the chill and taste how bitter the culture of impunity is,” Piya Macliing Malayao, the secretary general of the human rights group, Katribu, said.

The Hong Kong-based human rights watchdog, the Asian Human Rights Commission, reported that there was nothing unplanned about the September 1 execution of two tribal leaders, Daniel Campos and Bello Sinzo, as well as the director of an alternative education school, Emerito Samarca, in Liangga town.

It says that at around 4.00am soldiers went from house to house in the town and, at the point of a gun, ordered residents to gather at the community centre, which houses the alternative learning school.

Campos and Sinzo, together with Belen Itallo, who survived the massacre, were dragged out of a house belonging to Josephine Pagalan and forced to sit at the foot of the stairs at the entrance of the centre.

The paramilitary group then accused Itallo of being a member of the New People’s Army, despite the fact that she has been crippled from polio since childhood and has extreme difficulty walking.

She was then told to sit beside Campos and the onlookers were ordered to drop to the ground.

The Asian Human Rights Commission says, “Immediately afterwards, Bobby Tejero and his brother Loloy Tejero, known members of the paramilitary group, Magahat-Bagani, shot Campos in the head. Sinzo was shot dead and some 20 armed men fired indiscriminately around Campos, Sinzo and Itallo.

The report says that the back of Campos’ head was completely blown off. Witnesses believe that an M203 rifle was used as the murder weapon.

Later that morning, the body of Samarca was found in one of the classrooms.

Some 307 families, or 2,000 people evacuated the district after the massacre and are still taking refuge in Tandag City. They brought the remains of Sinzo, Campos and Samarca with them.

“People should not be made to choose between the government and the rebels,” Archbishop Nereo Odchimar told UCAN from Tandag City.

Archbishop Odchimar called the indigenous people victims in the protracted war that has been waged across Mindanao for decades and accused the military of distorting facts in order to find an excuse to run a campaign of terror in different areas, especially where big mining companies have their beady eyes on indigenous land.

He explained that the military uses the excuse that some of the indigenous people have relatives that have joined the New People’s Army rebel forces, but that does not make them Communist sympathisers.

However, he said that if the military had any interest in being consistent in its logic or fair to the people, it would also acknowledge that many of them have relatives in the army as well.

So that means they could also be credited with being citizens loyal to the government.

However, logic is not the name of the game, but running a reign of terror is. So selective accusation is the tactic of the moment, along with lies, more lies and damned lies.

Archbishop Odchimar also pointed out that the people are caught in a bind, as they are easy prey to both sides of the divide. “The people have no choice but to entertain the rebels and the military, or they might be branded as belonging to one party or the other,” Archbishop Odchimar said.

He described them as victims of circumstance.

He singled out the branding by the military of the Tribal Filipino Programme, which is run by his archdiocese in Tandag, as being a Communist front, as totally unfair and untrue.

He said that the programme runs an alternative education system and is registered with the Education Department, so the military has no right to randomly and without any evidence to brand it as a recruitment facility for rebels.