AUTHORITIES have mounted pursuit operations against a paramilitary group following the fatal shooting of a pregnant woman and the wounding of seven others during a tribal wedding ceremony in a village in Bukidnon on Saturday, police said.
Superintendent Surki Sereñas, regional police spokesperson, said the incident took place in Sitio Tibugawan, Barangay Kawayan in San Fernando town, Bukidnon, and believed to be part of the “manggahat” or “pangayaw” (tribal war) launched allegedly by an armed group led by Aldie “Butsoy” Salusad against other lumad folk sympathetic or members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
He added the San Fernando police, town officials and an indigenous peoples representative had already gone up to the remote village, said to be an NPA-infested area.
“Datu Cris Linsagan, municipal tribal chieftain, made initial moved so that the problem will not [escalate],” Sereñas said in a text message, adding that “the Army is on standby if needed.”
Police said killed on the spot was one Makinit Gayoran, who was a few months pregnant with her first child, when Salusad’s group allegedly fired at wedding attendees.
Seven of the community members were brought to the hospital to receive medical treatment.
Five of those injured were minors—three are teenagers, one an eight-year-old boy, and another male child, aged seven.
According to a witness, a teaching staff of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Region (RMP-NMR), the wedding ceremony was about to end when “the rain of bullets started.”
The RMP-NMR has a Literacy and Numeracy school in Kawayan.
“They fired at the entire community but concentrated at the house where around 80 individuals were gathered for the wedding,” the witness said.
Gayoran was reportedly hit in the chest causing her instant death, the witness added.
In an e-mailed statement, RMP-NMR said Datu Arnold Manhura, the IP Mandatory Representative in Kawayan, met with Salusad prior to the incident in Sitio Spring and pleaded with him not to disrupt the wedding.
Salusad was seen dressed in military camouflage and combat shoes, and was fully armed, accompanied by at least 11 other armed men, when Manhura met him on the road.
“They [Salusad and his men] also brought with them two residents from Sitio Spring and Sitio Tibugawan tied with a rope, [and were] forced to guide the group,” RMP-NMR quoted Manhura as saying.
A few minutes after talking to Salusad, Manhura said the armed group started firing indiscriminately at the house where the wedding was held.
The shooting stemmed from Salusad’s search for Datu Jimboy Mandagit, whom he accused as being an NPA member.
RMP-NMR said the residents at Tibugawan have been receiving threats from Salusad who allegedly threatened to kill them if Mandagit will not surrender.
It can be recalled that Mandagit was one of the leaders who went with the Tigwanahon families who evacuated to Haran, Davao City a year ago after intensive military operations in their communities.
RMP-NMR said Salusad’s group has been allegedly terrorizing the tribal communities in San Fernando for several years already.
The group has been suspected of killing Datu Jimmy Liguyon, village chief of Dao in San Fernando, as well as other community leaders in the past years.
Salusad’s men, the RMP-NMR alleged, has been controlling the trade of small-scale gold mining in Barangays Dao and Kiranggol in San Fernando.