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Head of tribal school, lumad leader slain by militia in Surigao del Sur

A photo taken August 31 and provided by Karapatan-Caraga shows soldiers of the 38th Infantry Battalion sitting in a shed at the entrance to the Alcadev school, which they had occupied and where, on Tuesday, the body of executive director Emerito Samarca, was found bound, his throat slit and his stomach stabbed, apparently killed by members of the Magahat militia.
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MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 3 - 2:56 p.m.) In what may be the worst in a series of recent attacks on indigenous people in Mindanao, militiamen allegedly murdered the head of a tribal school, the chairman of a lumad organization and one other person in Lianga town, Surigao del Sur early Tuesday morning.

Josephine Pagalan, spokesperson of the Kahugpungn sa mga Lumad-Caraga or KASALU, a regional federation of indigenous people’s organizations, told by phone that Dionel Campos, chairman of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang Sa Sumusunod or MAPASU, and his cousin Bello Sinzo, were executed at KM16, Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon in front of hundreds of residents of at least six sitios who had been ordered out of their homes by gunmen of the Magahat militia around 4 a.m.

The executions were also witnessed by teachers and students of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development or ALCADEV, who had been roused from their dormitories at the school and ordered to join the residents at KM16.

MAPASU chairman Dionel Campos, who was executed Tuesday by militiamen, attending a meeting at the ALCADEV school. (photo courtesy of Karapatan-Caraga)

When the militia withdrew after killing the two, the teachers and students returned to the ALCADEV compound to find the school’s executive director, Emerito Samarca, who had been ordered to stay behind, dead in a room, his throat slit and stabbed in the stomach, his hands and feet bound with rope.

Two days before the killings, troops of the Army's 36th Infantry Battalion and Special Forces Regiment arrived in Diatagon on August 30, just two days after ALCADEV celebrated its 11th founding anniversary, occupying the school and village, as well as another school run by the  NGO, Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur, or TRIFPSS. 

Karapatan-Caraga said the Magahat, said the human rights group, arrived August 31 and immediately burned the MAPASU cooperative and fired their weapons, sending residents and school staff fleeing to KM16. However, they detained Samarca.

Emerito Samarca (center read, with glasses) during the celebration of ALCADEV's foundation day. (photo courtesy of Karapatan-Caraga)

Pagalan, who was having the incident recorded at the Lianga police station when interviewed, told that early Tuesday morning, Magahat gunmen went around their communities, "kicked the doors of houses, ordering the people out and telling them to gather at KM16.”

Pagalan said she herself had been staying with a daughter at KM16 who had just given birth.

When the residents had gathered there, she said, the militiamen “ordered us to stop supporting the NPA (New People’s Army) if we did not want to die.”

Campos was then ordered to sit down outside her daughter’s store where “he was shot in the head,” followed by Sinzo. “Silang tanan nagpaputok (They all fired their guns),” Pagalan said.

She said the Magahat then “warned us to leave our place within two days or we would be killed when they returned.” They confiscated cellular phones and cameras of residents before withdrawing.

Pagalan said the residents of Diatagon have agreed to flee and head to the provincial capital, Tandag City, to seek help from the government. Currently, Karapatan-Caraga said an initial 40 families from KM 16 and Han-ayan are on their way to Tandag with the bodies of the three victims.  

In the wake of the murders, the human rights group said, the 38th IB and Special Forces troops "are conducting their usual patrols but no other actions are being taken as of this time."

Samarca, 54, left behind a wife and four children.

He had been with ALCADEV since its founding and became executive director in 2012. Before this, he worked with SILDAP-SIDLAKAN, a lumad support institution in Caraga from 1990-1998 and with the Unyon sa Mag-uuma sa Agusan del Norte or UMAN, an affiliate of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in the 1980's, Karapatan said.

He had recently attended the International People's Conference on Mining held in Metro Manila from July 30 to August 1. 

Manobo from Davao del Norte and Bukidnon provinces light candles on a map of Mindanao at Davao City's Freedom Park during a protest against the murder of Emerito Samarca, executive director of the ALCADEV school, Dionel Campos, chairman of the lumad organization MAPASU, and Campos' cousin Bello Sinzo, by members of the Magahat militi in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. (photo courtesy of Bayan Southern Mindanao Region)

Lawmakers from the Makabayan block immediately condemned the killing and demanded justice for the victims.

"There is a systematic operation to harass and kill lumad leaders. It is alarming," Gabriela party-list Representative Luz Ilagan said.

Ilagan said that the opposition to mining activities in the area could be behind the attacks.

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate said "killings and human rights violations" have become the Aquino administration’s legacy to the lumad.

"The government's upkeep of paramilitary organizations is sustaining the state of impunity in our country. We denounce this recent killing of lumad leaders to the highest degree. We demand swift justice for these killings," he said.

"This new spate of lumad killings by paramilitary groups and suspected elements of the military is the result of President Aquino's extant policy of militarization of the countryside. This latest incident further highlights the continuing culture of impunity in a country with a very dismal record of protecting human rights," Kabataan Representative Terry Ridon said as he called on the House committee on human rights to act motu propio (on its own initiative) and investigate the killings. 

This would be the second mass evacuation of residents from the lumad communities of Diatagon since last October when some 1,800 Manobo fled their homes after the murder of MAPASU council member Henry Sarsona Alameda, who was executed in front of his family allegedly by soldiers and militiamen, and Aldren Dumaguit. 

Indigenous peoples advocates and activists stage a lighting protest along E. Rodriguez Avenu in Quezon City Tuesday afternoon to protest the Lianga murders. (photo courtesy of Makabayan)

The murder of Samarca, Campos and Sinzo happens on the heels of the reported evacuation of more than 300 lumad families in San Miguel, also in Surigao del Sur, after Bagani gunmen allegedly killedbrothers Crisanto and Ellie Tabogol in their home the evening of August 28.

Benedictine nun Stella Matutina, who is slated to receive a human rights award from Weimar, Germany for her work with indigenous people and peasant communities in Mindanao, said the San Miguel evacuation had brought the number of internally displaced families in San Miguel to 480 following the earlier evacuation of 45 Manobo families from another village.

The Surigao del Sur incidents are the most recent human rights violations against lumad in Mindanao allegedly committed by state security forces and paramilitary groups associated with them that followed the controversy surrounding last month’s attempt to force hundreds of Manobo refugees out of a church compound in Davao City where they have sought refuge and back to their villages.

Among the other incidents are the alleged massacre of five Manobo clansmen, including a blind 72-year old and his 14-year old grandson, in Pangantucan, Bukidnon; the arrest in Gingoog City of two Manobo brothers, including a former volunteer teacher of a tribal school; and the arrest of 14 persons, including officials of lumad and farmers’ groups and a 12-year old boy, in Kitao-tao, Bukidnon.

ALCADEV is one of several schools set up by nongovernmental and religious organizations in lumad communities where educations opportunities used to be non-existent. However, these schools have openly been accused by the military of advocating support for communist rebels.

Late last year and early this year, teachers and students from the tribal schools, including ALCADEV and TRIFPSS, went to Metro Manila to seek national government help to stop the occupation of the learning centers by soldiers and militiamen and attempts to shut them down.  (with a report from Lira Dalangin-Fernandez,