A year after the Lianga massacre: No arrests of paramilitary perpetrators, military troops still in the villages

The more than 2,000 Lumad evacuees from Lianga, Surigao del Sur, together with human rights and cause-oriented groups, commemorated the first anniversary of the massacre of Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo, and school executive Emerito Samarca at the Tandag Sports Complex today. 

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"A year after the brutal killing, the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary perpetrators are still at large and troops under the 75th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army are still encamping at Sitio Han-ayan, Brgy. Diatagon," said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, who joined the commemoration activities in Surigao del Sur. 

The 2015 massacre of Campos, Sinzo and Samarca sparked national and international protests regarding the unabated political killing of indigenous people and peasants in Mindanao. Residents of the community and nearby villages, including teachers and students of alternative schools for indigenous children, were forced to evacuate, after members of the paramilitary groups and soldiers threatened to kill them all.

On August 24, 2016, some 260 individuals from religious and rights groups, and Lumad and people's organizations conducted an ocular inspection of the area, in preparation for the Lumad's return to their communities. Documentation teams noted that military camps and presence of soldiers were seen in the middle of Km. 9 and in the ALCADEV school grounds in Sitio Han-ayan, Brgy. Diatagon, Lianga, the site of the September 1 Lianga massacre. These military camps have been previously documented in the October 26 – 30, 2015 International Fact Finding Mission (IFFM). 

They also cited the following: 

a) The soldiers refused to be interviewed by the ocular teams, despite the presence of local government units and other government representatives; 

b) Since the 2015 IFFM, an additional military structure – a new checkpoint along the main road beside the Pamana water tub —was observed during the ocular visit in Han-ayan; 

c) Bullet slugs were found in several locations within Emerald (8 pcs), Km 9 (1 pc), Km 16 (9 pcs) and Han-ayan (10 pcs). Holes from bullet shots were also found in Dionel Campos’ house and Alcadev mini-gym in Han-ayan. These were not present during the 2015 IFFM. 

d) Houses situated close to where the military encamped were among the worst damaged and looted as observed during the ocular visit. 

All houses of the residents were damaged: either burned, ransacked or vandalized; their household and personal belongings destroyed or looted; and all primary and ALCADEV school buildings and facilities were structurally damaged, and school equipment and education materials irreparably destroyed. 

Karapatan reiterated its support for the safe return of the Lumad evacuees to their ancestral land, as the group pointed out that, "If the military will not pull-out and dismantle their camps within the villages, and once again sow terror through their combat operations, including their 'community organizing for peace and development,' we will hold 402nd Brigade commander Col. Isidro Purisima accountable," Palabay stated.

Purisima met with leaders of Mapasu on August 29, saying his troops will pull-out and turn-over the community to the residents.

Palabay called for the Duterte administration's enforcement of the "long-overdue" arrest of Magahat-Bagani perpetrators, as many witnesses have repeatedly cited the military as "coddlers of the said paramilitary groups." 

National and local people's and human rights organizations, church leaders and government representatives will accompany Lumad leaders on September 2 in Sitio Han-ayan to check on the military presence in the village.