DAVAO CITY - Multiple murder and other criminal complaints were filed on Tuesday against 23 leaders and members of the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group for the Sept. 1 attack in Lianga, Surigao del Sur province, which left three people dead and displaced hundreds of Manobo families, according to a militant human rights group.
The cases were filed by witnesses at the Surigao del Sur prosecutor's office in Lianga, with the help of members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Union of People's Lawyers in Mindanao, said Eliza Pangilinan, secretary general of Karapatan-Caraga region.
But a statement sent to journalists in Manila by Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the Philippine Army's 4th Infantry Division, said the Lianga police filed the complaints after obtaining statements from eight witnesses. The unit has jurisdiction over Sitio Han-ayan in Barangay Diatagon, where the killings took place.
Members of the Magahat-Bagani, which is said to be created, trained, armed and funded by the military, were reportedly behind the attack in Han-ayan, which led to the deaths of Emerito Samarca, executive director of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev); Dionel Campos, chair of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu); and Manobo datu Juvello Sinzo.
Among those named in the complaints of multiple murder, robbery, grave threat and coercion were Marcos Bocales, Marcial Belandrez and Kalpet Egua, alleged leaders of the Magahat-Bagani, according to Karapatan. Twenty "John Does" were included in the charge sheet.
Martinez said those charged were brothers Bobby and Loloy Tejero, a certain Garito Layno, and 20 "John Does."
More than 2,000 residents of Sitio Han-ayan in Barangay Diatagon fled their homes after the armed men stormed Alcadev, a privately operated but government-regulated learning institution that provides basic and technical education to lumad children, and burned the community's cooperative building nearby. They sought sanctuary at Surigao del Sur Sports Complex in Tandag City.
Killed in classroom
Samarca's body was found with a stab wound and a slit throat inside one of the school's classrooms. The witnesses said the armed men also killed Campos and his cousin, Sinzo, while the entire village watched.
In Manila, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Delfin Carmelo Iriberri denied any military involvement in the killings and vowed that the military will not violate the human rights of the people.
"I can assure you that … I cannot allow … that to happen especially with my birthplace even anywhere in the country,"' said Iriberri, who stressed that he was "born, raised and nurtured" in Surigao del Sur.
Iriberri spoke to reporters after his appointment and those of 104 other senior military officers were approved by the Commission on Appointments during confirmation hearings at the Senate on Wednesday.
"The complainants … felt the urgent need to file these cases and despite misgivings, voluntarily talked with local authorities, including investigators from the provincial police, to provide information and assist in the immediate arrest of the perpetrators," Pangilinan of Karapatan said.
"The communities, human rights organisations and advocates are doing our part so that the criminals can be arrested immediately and the evacuees can return safely to their communities," she said.
'Do their part'
Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel had earlier said he would support the filing of the charges against the perpetrators of the killings. Lianga residents believe the attack was part of the counterinsurgency campaign and intensified efforts to rush the entry of mining and logging operations.
With the filing of the charges, Karapatan challenged the government to ensure that truth will prevail and that justice will be served.
"The ball is now in their hands. We urge law enforcement authorities to do their part so that the killing rampage of these armed paramilitary groups can be immediately stopped," Pangilinan said.
Martinez said the identified suspects were "not included in the roster" of the 4th ID's Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit Active Auxiliary personnel in belying claims that the Magahat-Bagani members were being assisted by the Army to go after communist rebels.
Speaking to Senate reporters, Iriberri said he was informed the other day that police had arrested and charged three of the suspects.
Asked whether the military is stopping the harassment of indigenous peoples (IPs), he said it was its duty and mandate to protect people. "We are there. We operate even in the ancestral domain of IPs, of course in coordination and consultation with tribal leaders," he said.
Sen. Loren Legarda filed a resolution seeking an inquiry into the killings.
"The Senate should conduct an investigation into this possible case of judicial killings, and on the continued existence of paramilitary groups which I believe must be immediately removed and disbanded," Legarda said in a statement.