Karapatan calls for independent probe into massacre of Lumad volunteer teachers, community health worker in Davao de Oro

Photo from Katribu Youth

Photo from Katribu Youth

Lumad school volunteer teachers Chad Errol Booc and Gelejurain “Jurain” Ngujo II, community health worker Elgyn Balonga, and their two accompanying drivers are civilians, and the military’s claim that they were killed in an armed encounter with New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in New Bataan, Davao de Oro constitute a massacre, human rights watchdog Karapatan asserted on Tuesday, as the group called on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and other independent bodies to investigate the killings.

“Contrary to the military’s claims, Chad Booc, Jurain Ngujo, Elgyn Balonga, and the two drivers who were with them are all civilians; they are not rebels and combatants — much less terrorists. Covering up the massacre of civilians by falsely claiming that they were slain in an armed encounter constitute grave and deplorable violations of human rights. We strongly condemn these killings, and we urgently call on the CHR and other independent bodies to investigate this gruesome incident,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay urged.

Last Wednesday, February 23, 2022, around 9:30 p.m. Booc, Ngujo, Balonga, and their two drivers were traveling back to Davao City from New Bataan, Davao de Oro, where they conducted a community visit as part of their research work, when the massacre occurred. The Save Our Schools Network and the families of the victims only learned of the massacre on Friday, February 25, 2022, when the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division claimed that the five were slain in an armed encounter with the NPA. Initial information from locals, however, confirmed that no such encounter took place.

Palabay said that this massacre is “the latest in a long history of fascist attacks targeting Lumad schools, their volunteer teachers, and their communities.” Booc, a cum laude Computer Science graduate and volunteer teacher for the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, was among the seven arrested during the raid on the Lumad bakwit school in the University of San Carlos in Cebu City last year, February 15, 2021. They were released from detention after three months when the trumped-up charges against them were dismissed.

Booc, however, continued to be publicly targeted and red-tagged by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Ngujo, a teacher for the Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao, also received threats and red-tagging for his work. Meanwhile, Balonga was a community health worker who served in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran Center in Davao City, as well as in numerous medical missions in remote areas such as Talaingod and Kapalong, Davao del Norte.

“As expected, the NTF-ELCAC is now shamelessly using this massacre not only to further their red-tagging against Booc, Ngujo, and Balonga as well as against Lumad schools but to heinously justify militarization and more brutal counterinsurgency operations in Lumad communities and their ancestral domains. For decades, these have only resulted in killings, massacres, and forced displacements — bringing upon the Lumad nothing but State terror, misery, violence. The killings of Booc, Ngujo, and Balonga only deserve the highest condemnation,” she continued.

“We demand justice for Booc, Ngujo, and Balonga — and those who murdered them must be held to account. Their blood is also upon the hands of President Rodrigo Duterte and his bloodthirsty militarist minions in the NTF-ELCAC who not only enable and execute these massacres but also cheer on the murders of civilians and destruction of communities. We stand with their families in urging for an independent and impartial investigation into his brutal incident as we strongly reassert our call to stop the killings and to abolish the NTF-ELCAC now,” the Karapatan official ended.