BITTER TEARS FLOWED like the mighty Agusan Grande here when Lumad victims and witnesses of human-rights abuses took turns in recounting their appalling ordeals in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur.
In the International Peace and Human Rights Summit at St. Augustine Formation Center, this city on Thursday, some 150 peace advocates gathered to take part in the Mindanao Week of Peace and Human Rights that started on November 26 and will end on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.
In between sobs, Adelfa Belayong, wife of slain Lumad leader Datu Mampaagi Belayong, narrated the events surrounding her husband’s murder.
“I am very disappointed with this government. They punished my husband without due process. I am disappointed with the ruthlessness of this government,” said Belayong.
She denied allegations that her husband and their family are members of the Communist Party of the Philippines’s armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA). Belayong claimed that paramilitary forces killed her husband, who suspected the latter was a member of the NPA.
“In our years here, we never joined any armed group,” Belayong said.
Belayong, who said she was beside her husband in his final moment, said her husband’s final words for her was, “Don’t stop struggling for our ancestral.”
Samuel Hangadon, a Lumad leader of the Higaonon tribe, told summit participants that he witnessed the assassination of Datu Mampaagi Belayong.
“I ran to his side to see if he was still alive,” said Hangadon in Visayan. He said he rushed to Belayong’s slumped body after heard gunshots.
Hangadon said he went into hiding after his son overheard talks that his father would be next.
“Pa, you should go away because they’re saying you are,” Hangadon’s son supposedly told him.
“I can no longer return home,” Hangadon added.
His family is now in a dilemma and is having a hard time coping with what had happened in their community.
“Because I’m no longer in our area, they can spread the lie that I am an NPA member,” said Hangadon–who sought refuge with church people for a month now.
He said he could identify the members of the paramilitary group Task Force Gantangan because some of them, he said, were even his relatives.
“Some of them are my relatives, several are my nephews,” he said. “Up to now, they are harassing the civilians in our,” Hangadon said.
His family is currently starving, he said; his children have resorted to begging in the streets of neighboring Butuan City.
Senatorial hopeful Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and Anakpawis Rep. Joel Maglungsod participated in the summit.
Maglungsod, himself a Mindanaoan, said he was aghast after hearing the victims’ testimonies. He added that first thing next week, he would file a House resolution condemning the ongoing militarization in Northern Mindanao and request for a full-blown legislative inquiry on the matter.
For the victims’ immediate needs, he said Anakpawis would request the Department of Health and Department of Social Welfare and Development for a medical and relief operations in the area.
“I will personally participate in the mission to make sure that help gets to those who need it,” Maglungsod said.
“I am a witness that the province of Bukidnon is now a military zone,” he added.
He recounted their ordeal when, together with International Peace and Human Rights Mission (IPHRM)-Bukidnon Team, were not allowed to enter the fact-finding mission area even with the go signal of Malaybalay Mayor Florencio Flores.
“After that, we sought the help of the office of Gov. Jose Maria Zubiri but we were still prevented from entering the area,” said Maglungsod.
In an interview, Ocampo said the testimonies of the victims only reinforce the consistency and pattern of the military’s implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya.
“They are militarizing the area by establishing civilian armed groups under the pretext of counter-insurgency when the motives are the profits they could gain by controlling these resource-rich areas,” Ocampo said.