CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 October 2018

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Not a clash but a massacre

KORONADAL (UCAN): An independent investigation conducted by the Philippine Church and human rights groups concluded that eight tribal people, who allegedly died in an armed clash with Philippine troops in Mindanao on December 3, were actually massacred.
 
In its report, the investigating team rejected claims by the military that the eight victims were communist guerrillas. The massacre occurred near Lake Sebu town in South Cotabato.
 
Benito Molino, a forensic expert who was part of the investigation, concluded that, “Based on physical evidence ... it appears that there was no clash.” 
 
He said that at least 300 empty and live shells from M14 and M16 rifles were recovered from various sites where soldiers apparently fired their weapons. 
 
Lita Wali, the sister of slain tribal leader, Victor Danyan, said all the gunfire came from the soldiers. “We heard gunshots and my brother rushed out to see what’s happening,” she told members of the fact-finding team.
 
“He was gunned down. There was no exchange of gunfire,” Wali said, althought she admitted that her brother was carrying a homemade gun.
 
Sister Susan Bolanio, executive director of the Oblates of Notre Dame’s Hesed Foundation, said Danyan was targeted for being vocal in claims over a contested piece of land.
 
Danyan was chairperson Tamasco, a tribal group formed in 2006 to reclaim 1,700-hectares of ancestral land that was planted with coffee by an agri-industrial company.
 
“He was deliberately targeted to silence dissent in the area,” Sister Bolanio said. The Hesed Foundation has helped organise local tribal communities against mining and logging incursions into tribal lands.
 
Tamasco was also protesting the incursion of coal mining operations onto their ancestral land.
 
Aside from Danyan, his sons, Artemio and Victor, son-in-law Pato Ceraldo, and his neighbours in Datal Bonlangon, Samuel Angkoy, Mating Balabagan-Bantal, Toto Diamante, and Toto Danyan were also killed.
 
The villagers have since fled to nearby areas.
 
“We will continue the fight to reclaim our ancestral land even with the death of my father,” said Danyan’s daughter, Tarcela, the wife of Ceraldo. 
 
“Right now, we want justice for all the victims,” she added.
 
The military, however, insisted that the December 3 encounter resulted in the taking over of the “largest (communist) guerrilla base” in the area.
 
A spokesperson and captain, Arvin Encinas, said a firefight erupted around noon when communist fighters opened fire on patrolling soldiers near a “terrorist cave hideout” in the village of Datal Bonlangon.
 
The shooting also resulted in the wounding of five tribespeople, including an eight-year-old child, and the displacement of at least 200 villagers.
 
Members of the independent fact-finding mission have issued a statement calling on the Philippine government to conduct a thorough probe into the incident and for the military to withdraw its troops from the area.

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