SURIGAO del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel on Friday denounced the military for projecting themselves as “pro-lumad” despite their inept response to the killing of lumad leaders and the displacement of indigenous people in the province.
“It’s possible that they’re adapting this [stance] as [a form of] psychological warfare for them to divert attention but that doesn’t solve the problem we’re facing right now,” Pimentel told The Standard in an interview.
The governor’s statement followed the announcement that Maj. Gen. Rey Guerrero, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division based in Western Visayas, would replace Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, who reaches retirement age next week.
The Panay People’s Organization, a lumad group organized by the military and led by Renato Casinao, lauded Guerrero “for consistently upholding the rights of the indigenous peoples (IPs) as an advocacy to continuously empower them” and even “adopted” him as a lumad.
Pimentel said if Guerrero truly were part of the lumad, he should side with them.
“He should see what the lumad need. At this point, it’s the Army that can solve the killings and the problems of the lumad here in our province,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel also slammed the military for presenting Manobo leader Jumar Bucales as a resource speaker before the House committee on indigenous people, where he said other lumad leaders such as Emerito Samarca, the slain executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development Inc., were “poisoning the minds” of the Manobos.
Pimentel said Bucales was actually Marcos Bocales, the leader of the militia responsible for the murders of Samarca, Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo.
“The Jumar Bucales presented by the military is, in fact, Marcos Bocales. He’s being used as a resource person of the Army in House inquiries and that clearly establishes the link between the Army and the Baghani forces. He’s a rebel leader but they’re claiming that he’s a rebel returnee, making him talk to press conferences and say the lumad are linked to the New People’s Army. [Bocales] is why we have internally displaced lumad here in my province,” Pimentel added.
“Why is it that Jumar Bucales is their resource person… when in fact, he’s the one who harassed the lumad here in my province? He’s the leader of the Baghani forces. I want him caught but I think it can’t be possible because the military’s protecting him,” Pimentel said.
“I’m the governor here that’s why I know the problem. They should not say these things, otherwise it seems that we’re fooling each other when we are talking,” he added. “They should be protecting the people, but they’re doing it the other way around. That’s why it’s useless talking to them.”
Pimentel said he has also sought the help of the national government for the lumad who are still encamped at the provincial sports stadium in Tandag because they fear returning to their homes.
“The help coming from the DSWD has waned already. There are still 2,500 people in the evacuation centers in Tandag with 98 families. It’s good that some have already left, but the rest were those communities really affected by the killings,” Pimentel said.
“They want to return to their homes but what’s important is for the perpetrators to get arrested. But I think that’s not possible for now as the Baghani Magahat forces are supported by the Army.”
Also on Friday, the head of the human rights group Karapatan, Cristina Palabay, slammed the military’s “divide-and-rule” tactic and its use of media psy-ops to cover up its role in atrocities perpetrated against the lumad.
Local and international human rights institution have condemned the terrorism perpetrated by the military and its militia groups and also the communist New People’s Army against the lumad tribes.
Until now, the military and police have failed to arrest those behind the Sept. 1 execution of Samarca, Campos and Sinzo.
Suspected soldiers and militiamen from Magahat, Baghani, Alamara, and other groups continue to terrorize lumad tribes with the recent burning of a teacher’s cottage owned by Alcadev.
Palabay said the perpetrators also destroyed books, school supplies, instructional and learning materials, stocks of rice, power generator set, audio-video equipment, sewing machine, kitchen utensils and farm tools.
“The 5,000 banana and abaca seedlings in the school nursery, as well as hardwood and fruit trees were also destroyed. Since September, the 24 schoolchildren and 10 teachers of Alcadev have been staying at the Tandag City Sports Complex, where nearly 2,000 residents from Lianga and San Miguel towns of Surigao del Sur are staying,” she said.
She also took note of the military’s sweeping statement against TV personality Maine Mendoza, popularly known as Yaya Dub, singer-composer Aiza Seguerra and other artists as “misled” into supporting the calls of the lumad.