SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao: The military exhumed the remains of a lumad who has joined the New People’s Army (NPA) in Bagumbayan town in Sultan Kudarat and turned over to the family for traditional burial rites.
The former NPA member was identified as To Denian, 50, who was among those wounded in a clash with Philippine Army troops in Lake Sebu last December 3, but his fate was unknown to his relatives until last week.
That was after former NPA child warrior, named Teng Ambag, now 17, guided the Army and police investigators who exhumed Denian’s remains in a shallow grave on a forested area of Barangay Santo Niño, Bagumbayan.
Ambag said he buried his comrade on orders of Felimon Villegas, alias Ka Yoyo, sometime in December 2017.
“I was saddened because we could have saved his life. Ka Yoyo did not allow our civilian supporters to bring Timlas [Denian’s codename] to the nearest hospital,” said Ambag.
Denian and four other siblings – Remy, Ali, Jeffrey and Alka – joined the Platoon Arabo after being duped by a recruiter who promised to return their ancestral lands from the Consunji family.
Like To, the younger Jeffrey was also hit on the chest during the firefight but was saved by combat medics of the 33rd Infantry Battalion who found him near the encounter site.
Hearing the revelation of Ambag, Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, commanding officer of the 33rd Infantry (Makabayan) Battalion, ordered the exhumation of the human remains of the slain lumad NPA.
“It is also my duty to give respect to a fallen enemy. I would also like to ease the pain of the grieving relatives who have no idea about the death of their loved one,” said Cabunoc.
Mary Jean Denian, 30, Ali’s wife, volunteered to receive the remains during the Peace Assembly last April 10.
“I will help in transporting the human remains back to his home in Sitio Datal Bonglangon in Lake Sebu,” said Mary Jeane, whose husband, Ka Dandan, is a local NPA commander.
Contained in a wooden casket, Army soldiers in camouflaged uniform, carried To Denian’s remains in the multi-purpose hall where a peace rally was held.
Cabunoc asked forgiveness for the unintended consequence of the violent clash that also claimed the lives of two Army soldiers belonging to the 27th Infantry Battalion.
“I am deeply sorry that this incident happened. It is our constitutional mandate to protect civilian communities against armed aggression by the NPA,” he said. “Likewise, we also have the right to defend ourselves against anyone who threatens us with arms,” he added.
Cabunoc said his ‘Balik Tribo’ program is meant to facilitate the return of former NPA rebels back to their communities.
“I have not intended to return dead NPA rebels to the tribe. I prefer to solve community problems in a peaceful manner and without harming anyone,” he told a crowd of indigenous people and local government officials.
Mayor Jonalette de Pedro of Bagumbayan town provided cash assistance to Denian’s family.
“Please accept my deepest condolences. I hope that this would be the last time that a lumad constituent die for a lost cause,” said De Pedro.
De Pedro also spearheaded the acceptance of six members of the Yunit Milisya (YUMIL) of the NPA who decided to return to the fold of the law.