Army task force to pursue lumad killers

THE Philippine Army has formed a task force to hunt down a paramilitary group blamed for the killing of an executive director of a school for lumads and two lumad leaders in Lianga town, Surigao del Sur, the military said Thursday.

Captain Patrick Henry Martinez, spokesperson of the Army 4th Infantry Division (4ID), said the Army has agreed with the Philippine National Police to form a task force to pursue Bobby Tejero and several members of the Bagani paramilitary group who witnesses said carried out the killings.

Martinez said the decision to create the group was reached after a meeting Wednesday in Tandag City between Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel, 4ID commander Major Geneneral Oscar Lactao, and Senior Superrintedent Narciso Verdadero, Surigao del Sur police chief.

The forming of the task force comes more than two weeks after the gruesome murder of the lumad leaders inside a school in Lianga.

It also comes at the heels of an announcement by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that it will investigate into the killings and other abuses allegedly committed by some units of the Army and by a military-backed, anti-communist paramilitary group.

CHR Chairman Jose Luis Martin Gascon has directed commissioners Leah Tanodra-Armamento and Roberto Eugenio Cadiz to lead a fact-finding committee that will submit a report which will form the basis for the CHR’s actions against the perpetrators.

In a statement, Lactao said the 4ID will provide the personnel and resources to help the PNP arrest Tejero and the Bagani militiamen.

Lactao said soldiers from the Army 402nd Infantry Brigade will join the PNP provincial Public Safety Battalion.

Martinez said the police already knows where Tejero and the militiamen are hiding.

The PNP filed multiple murder, arson, robbery, and grave threats at the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Lianga last September 7.

Human rights group Karapatan accused Tejero and the militiamen of “executing” the school head and two others in front of a lumad community in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, last September 1.

Killed were Emerito Samarca, 54, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev); Dionel Campos, chair of the nongovernment organization Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), a lumad organization protesting mining operations, land conversion and plantations; and Bello Sinzo, Campos’ cousin.
Alcadev is an award-winning school for the indigenous people in Surigao del Sur.

Meanwhile, Carlos Conde, Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher for the Philippines, said they welcome the move of the authorities to get serious in going after the perpetrators of the killings and other abuses.

“That they decided to do this 17 days after the carnage is troubling, given the role the military played in this incident,” Conde said referring to the September 1 killings.

HRW is a New York-based non-government organization that publishes reports and briefings on human rights conditions for the United Nations and the European Union among others.

Conde said the Philippine government should also investigate the AFP for complicity in the Lianga killings, whether direct or indirect.

“At the very least, heads should roll because of the AFP’s failure to intervene,” Conde said.  (With reports from Jb Deveza)
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