THREE persons, including a minor, were killed in what the military said was an encounter with suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Lianga, Surigao del Sur on Tuesday, June 15, 2021.
Lieutenant Colonel Benedict Harvey Gernale, commanding officer of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion of the Philippine Army, identified the slain rebels as Lenie Perez Rivas, 38, Willy Salinas Rodriguez, 20, and a 12-year-old girl.
Human rights group Karapatan said, however, that the three were from the Lumad-Manobo tribe in Sitio Manluy-a, Brgy. Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
Karapatan said they were among six farmers bound for the poblacion to buy rice after harvesting abaca hemp in their farm when the troops fired at them.
The group said the minor was a Grade 6 student of the Lumad school Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS).
Karapatan said Rivas and Rodriguez were members of the Lumad organization Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu).
Karapatan also said that based on the accounts of the family, there were signs that the Rivas sisters were sexually harassed and that the bodies of the three were mishandled as they were covered with plastic and bound with tape.
The family said the bodies were beyond recognition.
Gernale, for his part, said a special forces team was tracking communist members in the vicinity of Sitio New Decoy, Diatagon at around 2 p.m. Tuesday when they encountered the alleged NPA members.
“The CNTs (communist NPA terrorists) fired at the soldiers and detonated an anti-personnel mine. An intense firefight ensued for more than 10 minutes, after which the terrorists scampered and tried to evade the operating troops,” said Gernale.
He said it was the same NPA group, with around 20 members, with whom military personnel had a firefight on June 14, 2021 in Sitio Tibog, Mabuhay, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur.
An NPA combatant was captured during the said operation. The military later found out that she is a minor. She was turned over to the local police who later turned her over to the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office in Prosperidad for psychosocial intervention and appropriate assistance.
Troops found various firearms and explosive materials at the two encounter sites.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) urged the government to conduct its own investigation.
“While we wait for the results of the independent probe, the commission urges the government to shed light on these deaths and conduct its own investigation to bring justice to the death,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said in a statement. (Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo / SunStar Philippines)