‘Please don’t shoot us!’

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Monday, May 12, 2014


QUEZON, BUKIDNON —“Maluoy mo, ayaw mi pamusila (Please don’t shoot us)!”

This was all Jill (not her real name), 15, could utter while bullets were zipping over her head as she hugged the ground for her dear life on that fateful afternoon on April 23, 2014.

“Gipanumba, gipangtigbas ang mga balay, pati ang amo-a, pati bugas, mga kaldero gidala nila (They hacked and fell the houses, including ours; they took our rice, even our cooking pot),” Jill said.

“Gapusilon nila una ang mga balay ayha panigbason, gipangbali, gipangtumba (They fired at the houses first before cutting them down),” she said referring to the armed men who raided their village at Montalban Ranch in Purok 7, Barangay Botong, this province.

She slowly crawled out of the area while the cacophony of the armed men’s laughter rang throughout their village.

Jill said she was too terrified to mind the uneven earth, the barbed-wire fences and the sharp jagged rocks that made her crawl to safety even more difficult.

Jill belongs to the Manobo-Pulangihon tribe and daughter of one of the tribal leaders or datu. Their clan is a member of the Tribal Indigenous Oppressed Group Association (Tindoga) that continues to lay ancestral domain claim in spite of harassments and threats that they have experienced recently.

Most of the victims of the armed raid, like Jill, are children—all 40 of them.

Late response

Johnny (not his real name), 11, said he witnessed how the armed men hacked their house and divested their belongings.

“Nakita nako nga gipangtadtad nila ang among trapal (I saw they cut up our tarp),” Johnny said.

“Gipangguba among balay ug giti-onan mi nila, giti-onan ko sa duha ka sikyu, may gali nakahapa ko ug nakadagan maong wala ko naigo (They demolished our houses and they pointed their guns at us; two armed men pointed their firearms at me, fortunately I was able to duck and was not hit),” he added.

Johnny said their houses were already demolished when the police came.

The armed men, he said, quickly fled and left their guns behind. He claimed the police did not even try to pursue the suspects.

However, the police were able to catch two of the more than 60 armed men who raided the lumad village.

“Gidakop nila si Bolongan, katong nagtion sa akoa, ingun dayun ang mga pulis nga dili daw muduol ingun ang pulis kay basin magkagubot daw (They arrested Bolongan, he was the one who pointed a gun at me; the police said not to go near them to avoid further violence),” he said.

Held at gunpoint

Jane (not her real name), 12, was not able to crawl out of their village. She was held at gunpoint by the same masked men.

“Samtang galingkod ko uban sa akong pag-umangkon nga si Ariel (6, not his real name) naay niabot nga laki nga naka-itom ug sinina, nakatabon ang nawong gamit ang sinina ug na-ay dala nga ta-as nga armas (While I was sitting with my nephew Airiel, men with guns wearing black shirts with covers on their faces came bringing long arms),” said Jane.

At gunpoint, the armed men told her to get out of the premises.

Jane refused to leave because she could not leave her mother who was still in the area.

“Pagkadungog sa mga buto-buto, naghilaka ko (I started crying when I heard gunshots),” she said.

She cried out for her mother. Luckily, Jane’s family was able to get out of the village and together they crawled their way out of the area and into the highway.

Another child survivor held at gunpoint, Ruben, 12, said that he heard a truck blew its horn. He was clueless if it was the signal for the armed men to surround their village.

“Nati-onan pa ‘mi ug armas uban akong mga kauban nga mga bata (They pointed their guns at me and the other children),” he said.

“Gi-ignan ko sa akong mama nga manghipos na sa mga gamit kay nagtoo mi nga ibalhin na ‘mi sa gikasabotan nga lugar sa yuta nga matikaran o matamnan (My mother told me to pack our belongings believing that we would be transferred to a new place where we can till the land or plant),” said Ruben.

However, he faied to do what his mother told him because the armed men were already in the act of destroying their houses.

“Nagbalik-balik ko sa ako agi tungod sa kakulba (I was running back and forth because I was so scared),” he said.

The villagers and witnesses alleged the armed men who pillaged their village were hired goons of a certain Pablo “Poling” Lorenzo III.

Lorenzo is a known contract grower for a big pineapple plantation and claims to be the owner of the land where the tribe claims.

Although Lorenzo holds an Agro Forest Farm Lease Agreement (AFFLA) No. 123, this has expired some five years ago—December 31, 2009.

Still Lorenzo continues to make his presence felt in the area with armed raids just like what happened last April 23.

Picking up the pieces

One of the religious missionaries from Medical Mission Sisters (MMS), Sister Maria Evelyn Anuncio, witnessed the incident.

“Ug nagsugod na ug pangtigbas sa mga balay ang mga trabahante ni Poling gamit ang mga ispading, guna ug bara(Poling’s workers started to hack at the houses using assorted farming implements),” said Anuncio.

Anuncio, together with three other nuns from MMS, were supposed to witness the installation of the indigenous peoples in the area granted by the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) in coordination with municipality of Quezon, Bukidnon.

The sisters of MMS, together with the tribes’ ‘Baes,’ acted as the negotiating panel for a diplomatic way of resolving the land dispute but Lorenzo’s goons were not convinced.

Anuncio said she could hear the children’s cries for help from afar but was rendered helpless since the armed men were firing at their direction, too.

In response to the incident, church workers and students, indigenous people’s rights advocates, peasant leaders and with community-based health workers went to the community to aid the indigenous people who were victims of violence through a medical and fact-finding mission, feeding program cum psycho-social sessions on May 6.

In the debriefing component, MMS and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP)—together with student volunteers—accommodated the children in the community.

They gave the children school materials (bond papers, crayons, pencils) for them to express how they felt about the incident.

The children drew pictures of houses being destroyed, hacked into pieces, stick-figure of people wearing masks with guns.

Some drew themselves crawling away from the men with guns—hiding among the sugarcane reeds.

Curiously, others drew themselves fighting the armed men and defeating them.

Some, still, drew idyllic scenes as if to express living peacefully in their village.

“Things will never be the same for these kids,” Anuncio said.

She added that the incident stripped the children of a carefree childhood and pushed to deal with the harsh realities in their tender age.

In spite of what they have been through the children chanted in unison after the psycho-social therapy sessions: “Yutang kabilin, depensahan. Depensahan, panalipdan (Defend the ancestral land. Defend it, protect it).” (Lynyrd Alexsei N. Corrales/XU-DevComm Intern)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on May 12, 2014.

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