MANILA, Philippines — A lumad teacher was arrested in Sultant Kudarat province over murder and frustrated murder charges filed against her and several colleagues and community leaders over a clash between communist rebels and Marines last year that left one soldier dead and nine others wounded.
Jolita Tolino of the Center for Lumad Advocacy, Networking and Services Inc., or CLANS, community school in Sitio Tinagdanan, Barangay Hinalaan, Kalamansig town, was arrested by police Wednesday at her home, which is also in the community.
She was brought to the Isulan police station and was reportedly up for arraignment.
The arrest of Tolino came as a lumad and peasant advocacy group voiced alarm over recent statements by President Rodrigo Duterte they said appeared “geared at turning communities in Davao Region into (the government’s) next battleground after Marawi.”
The Solidarity Action Group for Indigenous Peoples and Peasants (SAGIPP) cited Duterte’s remarks before indigenous people in a military-organized summit in Davao City last week in which he suggested that lumad evacuate from their communities and he would personally choose investors to operate in their ancestral lands.
A copy of the warrant of arrest provided by CLANS executive director Geming Alonzo names Tolino, six other lumad teachers — Cheryl Tolino, Junifer Tawan, Alma Salaya, Wally Gugo, Gina Ciano and Antonette Kampir (who is identified as Kampian in the warrant) — and fivw officers of the school’s Parents-Teachers-Community Association — Gawa Gantangan, Kolon Makinsi, Godofredo Gantangan, and Tirso Sakudal — all of them Dulangan Manobo, as among the 32 guerrillas who allegedly ambushed a platoon of Marine Battalion Landing Team 2 on March 20 last year.
The soldiers were conducting a “site survey” for a medical mission in the community as well as “to verify reports of New People’s Army disturbances in the area.”
The rebel ambush killed Private Alvino Bahian and left Staff Sergeant Alexander Falcasantos, Corporals Castle Camu, Robert Paul de Asis, Joseph Accad, and Marlon Ampao, Privates First Class Dave Calaycay, and Glen Genova, Privates Randy Borromeo and Jared Sugaguil wounded.
The injured troops, all “private complainants” in the case, claimed to have identified the teachers and community leaders as among the rebels who attacked them, recognizing them because they were among those they had a dialogue with before the ambush.
However, Alonzo maintained that the charges were trumped up and none of the teachers of PTCA officers could have been rebels or involved in the ambush.
The CLANS executive director said the six teachers were not even in the community when the ambush happened but “in our office for a teacher’ seminar and curriculum consultation.”
As for the PTCA officers, Alonzo acknowledged they were in the community because they are residents there and were, in fact, “among the civilians who were pinned down by the fighting.”
Lumad rights advocates have complained of human rights violations allegedly committed by government troops in Tinagdanan, where many residents are members of the Kesasabanay Dulangan Manobo, a local organization that has been resisting the entry of DM Consunji Inc. in their ancestral lands within the Daguma Mountain Range, which stretches over parts of Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and South Cotabato.
In a statement, SAGIPP said Duterte was using the military to implement his “paradigm of development,” which the group called “incongruous to the demands of the lumad for the preservation and development of their ancestral lands and the peasants’ call for agrarian reform.”
The group accused the government of turning Southern Mindanao into a “military garrison,” with 16 battalions in the Davao Region alone, backed by 6,000 militiamen deployed to 300 detachments, among these the Alamara in Davao City, Davao del Norte an Bukidnon; the Bagani in Cotabato, Bukidnon, Davao, Loreto in Agusan del Sur and Laak in Compostela Valley; the Black Fighter in Davao City; he Falcon Squad in Veruela in Ausan del Sur; Manado in Caragao, Davao Orienal; and Pulahan in Diwalwal, Compostela Valley.
Among the areas targeted by military operations, said SAGIPP, is the Pantaron Range, a rich watershed that runs through the towns of Talaingod, Kapalong and Sto. Tomas in Davao del Norte, “a frontier protected by Manobo.”
“Troops have been conducting operations in Talaingod and encamped in the communities of Natulinan, Igang, Kahilawan and Kabadianan, Milyong, Barobo, Angela, and JBL,” SAGIPP said.
Meanwhile, it said “Compostela Valley remains a virtual garrison with five Army battalions present in the province, making it the most militarized province in the country,” where “the most number of politically-related extrajudicial killings under Duterte’s term” have occurred, earning the moniker “Valley of Death.”
SAGIPP said Duterte, “who has promised to correct historical injustices,” has instead “unleashed and further scarred the peasants and lumad.”