Paramilitary men go on a rampage in Agusan del Sur, Philippines: two Lumad killed, two children wounded

Account of the Incident: On June 30, 2011 at around 5 am, Arpe was lying on the floor of his house with his wife Mayse and three children, aged 1 year old, 4 years old and 8 years old, when they heard men on the ground outside their house.  About two meters from their house, Arpe's daughter (Michelle), 14 years old and his nephew Solte, 21 years old were asleep in a neighboring house.  All of a sudden, gunfire was directed at the house where Michelle and Solte were sleeping.  Solte jumped out of the house and was followed by gunfire.  Michelle saw Solte fall to the ground as she was hit on the left leg.  She rolled down the hillside to hide below.

The gunmen entered the Belayong house and as Arpe tossed his one-year-old daughter to Mayse, he was shot twice on the chest, falling over Adeb, who was still lying on the floor.  After seeing Tala Mansinugdan and Laging Binsalan among the armed men who shot Arpe, Mayse jumped out of the house with her baby daughter and eight-year-old son and rolled down the hill to their farm plot below.  She saw her wounded teenage daughter and told her to hide.   Mayse then ran for two kilometers to get help at the house of Lagdam Hanghadon, her cousin and their nearest neighbors.

Learning of the events in Arpe's house, Lagdam's children Dexter, Donie and Jun-Jun Hangadon returned to the place of the incident at around 9am and saw Arpe's body lying over his four-year-old son (Adeb) who was alive with a leg wound and covered in his father’s blood.  They saw the Belayong’s belongings scattered all over the house and some piled over his body.  They also retrieved Solte's dead body 3 meters away from Arpe's house.  They also found Michelle hiding in the nearby farm at the foot of the hill near their house.

After placing the two dead bodies side by side inside the Belayong house, tying and wrapping them in cloth and plastic sheeting, they were not able to bury the bodies because they were worried that the armed men would go back for them. After arranging the corpses in the house, the Hangadon brothers took Michelle and Adeb back to Lagdam's house where they were reunited with their family.

For fear of the members of the Salakawan patrolling the mountains, it took 10 days for the family to find assistance and seek sanctuary in the lowlands.  In the meantime, Michelle and Adeb were treated for their bullet wounds.  Mayse, and her two other children are recovering from their experiences.

Background

In March 2011, local Higaonon organization Linundigan, through their elder Datu Man-altuwan requested the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), an NGO assisting indigenous peoples in Agusan, to establish a community school in Semontanan, Brgy. Calabuan in the mountains of Esperanza, Agusan del Sur.  Understanding the need for such a lumad (indigenous peoples of Mindanao) school and with the community's cooperation, the RMP responded positively to the request.

Arpe Belayong supported Linundigan's initiative to have the RMP school in their community.  He was a father of three school-age children and also a member of the Parent-Teacher-Community Organization of their community school in Lawan-Lawan, Las Nieves from where they were displaced two years ago.  Although he lived four-days-hike away from the village center of Semontanan in the middle of the forest, he welcomed the building of the school.

On May 11, 2011, Arpe was visited by Bontula, younger brother of Tala Mansinogdan, who told him that Tala was being held captive by Laging Binasalan, a known member of Manpatilan's Wild Dog, now called Salakawan. On May 14, Tala himself visited Arpe and warned him that Laging released him on the condition that Tala convince Arpe to leave his Mansalog home and farm because it is Laging's territory. Mayse asked that they be allowed to harvest their crop before leaving the area.

On June 6, 2011, the staff of RMP with Datu Man-altuwan, Brgy. Captain of Brgy. Calabuan and local members of Linundigan from Semontanan visited the office of Mayor Nida Manpatilan in Brgy. Poblacion, Esperanza, Agusan del Sur.  Former Mayor Deo Manpatilan was also in Mayor Nida's office at the time.  Only the RMP staff, Datu Man-altuwan and Calabuan village chair were allowed an audience with the Mayor.

During the interview, Deo Manpatilan repeatedly warned Datu Man-altuwan's decision to allow the RMP to start a school in Semontanan, saying that the children would be taught anti-government and subversive songs.  He warned the village chair and Datu Man-altuwan that should anything happen to the community related to RMP's running of the school, the Esperanza LGU (local government unit) cannot be held responsible and cannot intervene.  In his parting shot, Manpatilan reminded the RMP to strictly follow legal procedure with the Department of Education on  the opening of the school.

After their interview, Datu Man-altuwan was brought to Deo Manpatilan's home and was further warned about allowing the RMP into Semontanan. He was presented with the alternative of allowing a logging firm to help them build a school instead.

Despite the threats, RMP was able to get the support of Linundigan, an organization of the Higaonon indigenous peoples,  through their resolution, affirming their desire to have a community school in Semontanan.

On the third week of June, Tala returned to Arpe's home to inform him that Laging Binasalan and his Salakawan group was going to launch an operation to clear Mount Manalog.

In 2006, Higaonon communities opposed to self-acclaimed Higaonon tribal leader Ronald Manhumosay's Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) claim in the Higaonon ancestral domain areas in Agusan del Norte were harassed by the latter’s armed Bungkatol Liberation Front (BULIF), a paramilitary group formed by the Kahugpungan sa Nagkahiusang Minorya (KNM), a government-initiated tribal organization as part of the “Zone of Peace” effort under the counter-insurgency program, Oplan Lambat Bitag in 1992.   It claims representation for the Higaonon in negotiations with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Tribal Coalition of Mindanao (TRICOM).   Datu Ronald Manhumosay is the current president of the KNM. It is the holder of CADT 18, covering communities from Km.30 onwards along the Nasipit Lumber Company (NALCO) road.

Many Higaonons died in connection with this conflict, among them Somo Senga, whose killing was among those reported to UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston when he visited Mindanao in 2007.   Despite reports of killings and harassment perpetrated by private armed groups in claiming territories in the resource-rich Higaonon ancestral domain,  the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have tolerated the continued arming of groups such as the BULIF and Manpatilan's Wild Dogs.  With the addition of the AFP's Task Force Gantangan – Bagani Force (TFG-BF), more rogue armed bands are roaming the mountains of these areas.

As the harassment escalated in 2007 that resulted in the closure of literacy-numeracy schools in Lawan-Lawan, Las Nieves Agusan del Norte, small Higaonon communities opposed to Manhumosay's claim were displaced deep into the mountains in the boundaries of the four provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon.  Those who relocated from Las Nieves, Agusan del Norte to escape Manhumosay's BULIF and went to the hinterland communities in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur are now prey to Manpatilan's Wild Dog.

In 2009, Datu Mampaagi Belayong, elder and founding chairman of progressive Higaonon organization, Linundigan, was killed in his home in Brgy. Kinamaybay, Esperanza in Agusan del Sur by known members of the TFG-BF and BULIF in a joint operation.   Despite first hand witnesses to the killing, no arrests were made.  One of the known perpetrators in Datu Mampaagi's killing, Commander Bawang, has verbally attacked progressive organizations and their leaders and has vowed to wipe out their ranks.

As big investors in oil palm plantation and mining focus their interests on the forest areas in Esperanza, Lumad dealers Manpatilan, Manhumosay, Mansulonay and Napongahan who have CADT claims, stand to personally benefit from these firms to the detriment of the larger Lumad communities that they claim to protect.   Exploiting the prescriptions of the defective Indigenous People's Rights Act (IPRA) and its corrupt National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), that instead of genuinely respecting the right to self-determination and concretely recognizing their ancestral domain, these instruments have become tools for further exploitation and sell-out of the natural resources that the indigenous peoples in Agusan have preserved for generations.

 

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