ZAMBOANGA CITY: New People’s Army (NPA) rebels killed three persons, including a tribal leader they accused of murdering civilians, during a clash in the town of Caraga, Davao Oriental. Four of their fighters were also slain in the battle.
Roel Agustin II, who spoke for the NPA, said they sent a team to the town to disarm the group of Cupertino Banugan, leader of the so-called paramilitary group Mandaya Ancestral Defense Unit, but a gun fight erupted, killing the tribal chieftain, his brother Ramon and relative Dodo, all surnamed Banugan.
He said rebel forces also seized weapons from the slain militia leader they accused as being protected by the 67th Infantry Battalion (67IB) tagged behind the spate of human rights violations and string of murders of innocent civilians suspected either as supporters or sympathizers of the NPA in the town.
“The suffering masses of Caraga rejoice the killing of the Banugans who, with the aid of the fascist AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), have wielded absolute fascist control over the peasant and Lumad communities in Caraga since the US-Arroyo regime under the Oplan Bantay Laya counter-revolutionary campaign,” Agustin said, adding the clash occurred just recently.
Agustin said the slain tribal leader allegedly used his power to usurp 14,000 hectares of land owned by the Iligan, Bayon, Silat, Tibay and Panin clans of Caraga. He also accused Banugan of systematic land rent extortion from the poor Mandaya peasants.
“Cupertino collected 10 percent from the gross sale of abaca and other products of the farmers, including marijuana. He deducted 10 percent from any economic project established in his turf. He collected thousands from each of the 300 families who were victims of Typhoon ‘Pablo’. He amassed at least two million pesos yearly from his extortion activities. Cupertino grew to become more brutal and exploitative, aiding and abetting the fascist 67IB in its counter-revolutionary operations in Caraga, Davao Oriental,” Agustin said.
The rebel spokesman said it is also common knowledge among the Mandaya communities of Caraga that Cupertino and his brother were responsible for the murder of Romeo Mapando, Modesto Lagungan and Male Lagungan. He said they also tried to kill Julieto Bayon and Bitoy Usto.
“Most of the victims were Caragan residents who were unjustly dispossessed of their lands and tried to oppose the Banugans’ despotic rule,” Agustin said, adding, “the killing of the Banugans should serve as a warning to other warlords and fascist fanatic groups who abuse and terrorize the masses and rule with impunity in peasant communities.”
There was no immediate statement from military officials and government leaders on the killings. The Philippine government is currently negotiating peace with the rebels.