CAGAYAN DE ORO City, Aug. 2, 2011—The leaders of an indigenous peoples group and a representative of an alternative legal group fighting for the protection of the rights of marginalized people in Mindanao has called for a congressional inquiry into the unsolved murders of lumad leaders in Southern Philippines.
Lawyer Jarley D. Trujillo of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) and Jomorito “Datu Inbanwag” Goaynon of the Higaonon tribe in Bukidnon urged congressmen to conduct an investigation into the high-profile killings of various datus (chieftains/leaders) of lumad groups in Mindanao which up to now has remained unsolved.
The call came at the heels of the killing of Arpe “Datu Lapugotan” Belayong last June 30 by members of the paramilitary group Salakawan, led by a certain Laging Binsalan.
Also killed on that fateful morning was his nephew Sulte San-ogan, when Binsalan’s group opened fire indiscriminately on the victims’ kubo in Mt. Manalog in Calabuan, Esperanza, Agusan del Sur.
Injured were Belayong’s children aged 14 and four.
In 2009, Belayong’s elder brother, Datu Mampaagi Belayong was also killed by members of the paramilitary groups Task Force Gantangan-Bagani Force and the Bungkatol Liberation Front.
Both Belayongs were killed due to their opposition to the mining activities within their ancestral land, said Goaynon, chairperson of the Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization, which counts as members hundreds of lumad peoples irregardless of tribe from the provinces of Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, Agusan del Sur and Agusan del Norte and even from the Davao provinces.
Goaynon said that the principal suspect in the killings is former Mayor Deo Mambatilan of Esperanza, Agusan del Sur. Mambatilan is the uncle of Goaynon by law as the former is married to the latter’s aunt.
Datu Lapugotan’s wife, Mayse Belayong, alleged that Mambatilan had her husband killed because of his refusal to sign the document claiming 170,000 hectares in Esperanza as ancestral domain/ancestral land.
“He is a true Higaonon but the people do not recognized him as their datu because he became a datu only through the government, which bestowed on him that title,” Goaynon said, adding that the Higaonon people of Esperanza recognized only one datu, Datu Mampaagi and subsequently his brother, Datu Lapugotan.
“Because the brothers will not sign the document and the people do not recognized him as a consequence, he had them killed using paramilitary groups to sow fear among the people and drive them away from their ancestral land,” he added.
Trujillo lamented that the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) has not raised a protest for the killings nor filed a single case against the suspect despite the high-profile killings of lumad leaders in the Caraga Region in the past several years.
“It really is an inutile agency,” she said.
“The killing of the lumad leaders in Mindanao is just a microcosm of what is happening to the lumads all over the Philippines,” she added.
Because of this, Trujillo said, they have no other recourse but to ask for Congress’ intervention.
On August 6, lumad peoples from Mindanao will protest before Congress to demand investigations into the killings.
The younger Belayong’s murder last June 30 was sixth since 2005, said Goaynon.
According to the Kalumbay leader, those killed since 2005 were Datu Manlugoyan, a Talaandig datu in San Luis, Agusan del Sur; Avelino “Datu Mansubaybay” Badbaran of San Luis, Agusan del Sur; Datu Mampaagi Belayong of Esperanza, Agusan del Sur; Datu Alvie Benangkasan of Gingoog City and Datu Pinakilid of Las Nievesm Agusan del Norte.
Not listed in Kalumbay’s list of murdered lumad leaders is Datu Berting Pinagawa of Gingoog City, who was gunned down for fighting against the illegal logging activities in his ancestral domain by a logging company in 2009. (Bong D. Fabe)