THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced on Monday its support for Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel’s call to disband an alleged para-military group allegedly responsible in the killing of indigenous people in the province last week.
Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, commander of the AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), also said there is an ongoing internal investigation on the allegations that some commanders are giving directions to Bagani forces, a paramilitary group said to be composed of lumads or indigenous people.
The governor earlier said it would be hard for the Philippine Army to deny links with Bagani because some of its members have been seen in their headquarters.
“We will investigate if the claim of the governor is true. If found true, we will impose sanctions on our commanders or units. We have an ongoing internal investigation regarding this matter,” said Baladad.
He said the operations of Bagani are sanctioned by the AFP, adding that the group is part of the political structure of the lumads.
“Iyong datu nila saka yung kanilang babaylan or spiritual leader nila is yung bagani, lahat ng indigenous people dito, if we look at it, I have observed may bagani silang sarili kada community, kada tribo (Their datu and their babaylan or spiritual leader is the Bagani. All the indigenous people here, if we look at it, I have observed, they have their own Bagani in every community, every tribe),” Baladad explained.
But if the group started arming themselves, that is the time the military will take action, Baladad said.
More than 2,000 residents of Barangay Diatagon in Lianga town, Surigao del Sur have sought shelter in an evacuation center in the province following the killing on September 1, 2015 of Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo.
The killings have been blamed on the so-called Magahat/Bagani, a paramilitary group in Lianga. Militants believe the group is supported by the military.
Samarca was the executive director of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), a school for the lumad while Campos was chairperson of an indigenous people’s organization, the Malahutayong Pakig-bisog Alang sa Sumusunod while Sinzo is Samarca’s cousin.
Gabriela partylist Rep. Luz-viminda Ilagan has blamed the military for the abuses committed by pro-government militias that are allegedly being funded by logging and mining firms to protect their interests.
“We must stop funding para-militaries and we must stop asking mining and logging interests to fund them as well. Moreover, those AFP battalions deployed in Mindanao responsible for terrorizing Lumad communities should be pulled-out and should no longer be funded,” she said.
She added that defense officials will be made to explain on the massive deployment of troops in Mindanao when House of Representatives deliberates on the proposed budget of the Department of National Defense.
In Manila, Benedictine nuns from Saint Scholastica College on Monday joined the appeal to the government to stop harassing lumads in Surigao del Sur.
Sister Cecille Ido, chairperson of the Justice Peace and Integrity of the Missionary of Benedictine Sisters, condemned the killing of Samarca, Campos and Sinzo.
“We are one with you in your quest for justice. These killings should stop,” said Ido, addressing leaders of indigenous organizations.
“Aquino’s last year is turning into a bloodbath for the indigenous people. In the last eight months, there have been 13 lumads killed, three massacres, and more than 4,000 evacuees,” said Piya Malayao, a Bontok-Igorot and secretary-general of Katribu group.