By LYN V. RAMO
MANILA — Two indigenous women, one an Aggay and another a Higaonon, share the yoke of the military abuses inflicted against mountain peoples and indigenous peoples. Their husbands, also from the same indigenous groups, had fallen victims to military and para-military atrocities. Both coming from the peasant masses eking out a living from the bounty of nature, these women said they only have the peoples’ mass movement to lean on.
On June 30, a Higaonon woman with her four children survived what is now known as the Ezperanza massacre, but she lost her husband. Mayse Belayong, in her early 30′s, said she and her husband Arpe or Datu Lapugotan, woke up early that dawn. It was their son’s first birthday. She recalls that her husband was serenading the baby with a birth-day song when a sudden burst of gunfire ended it. Arpe fell instantly shielding his son, who survived. Two of his children, however, sustained gunshot wounds.
Bullets wounded the shoulder, forearm and leg of Michelle, 14. Adeb, 4,sustained a gunshot wound on his thigh. To Mayse who had to leave their house with the little baby and another child, the retrieval of the datu’s remains is a burden she had to carry on her shoulders, and the responsibility to raise her children.
Mayse and her children sought refuge with nine other families-evacuees at the Kalumbay Development Center in Cagayan de Oro City, after the para-military group Salakawan strafed her house at the foot of Mount Manalog, in the village of Calabu-an, Esperanza, Agusan del Sur in southern Philippines. Salamea Agbayani, an Aggay in her late 30s from Barangay Masi, Rizal, Cagayan, lost her four-month fetus on July 23, right at the site where she witnessed how soldiers tortured her husband in the swidden farm the family was tending.
Around 60 men in uniform said to be from the composite team of the Charlie Company of the 17th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army IBPA) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) regional mobile group (RMG) reportedly conducted a joint combat operations in Sto. Nino, Piat, Rizal and Lasam, all in Cagayan since July 21. Salamea said that before the arrest and torture, they were getting ready to take a rest and her five-year-old daughter was then asking her father to get some young coconuts.
Because the tree owner was not around, Salamea told her daughter that her father could not get any fruit. “I told her we could not get any fruit because the owner was not around,” Salamea recalled telling her daughter. When Vicente, 48, was fetching water from a deep well, soldiers in black shirts and camouflage pants came looking for rebels.
They found Vicente by the well and they dragged, hogtied and hit him with the butt of an armalite several times.” They said, ‘Manong has confessed that there is an NPA camp here’,” she recalled. She added the soldiers told her not to run, as they poked at her with an armalite. She saw how the uniformed men took turns hitting her husband with the handle of the bolo, then the armalite butt.
Someone hit his feet with a small timber cut from the forest. The soldiers tied the blindfolded Vicente to a tree and left him under the sun from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM. “The soldiers left my husband under the sun. They even covered his head with a plastic bag,” Salamea recalled. At the sight of blood oozing between her legs, one of the soldiers asked if she was pregnant. Salamea lost her unborn child while the soldiers were interrogating her husband. Not contented with the information they have extracted from the Vicente, the soldiers accosted and interrogated the five-year old girl.
Salamea’s other child, a 14-year-old, stopped them. Meanwhile, Vicente is languishing in a jail in Lasam, Cagayan allegedly for five counts of murder, double frustrated murder and illegal possession of firearms. Like Arpe Belayong who opposed the entry of mining operations in indigenous peoples’ villages in Agusan del Sur, Vicente is a known leader of the peasant alliance Timpuyog Dagiti Mannalon nga Aggay iti Zinundungan Valley in Cagayan. While Belayong fought the pressure to surrender his ancestral land claim to an alleged local warlord in Agusan del Sur, Agbayani led poor peasants in Cagayan.
These activities have cost them and their respective families their security and their lives. The two indigenous women are among those who commemorated the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in Manila on August 9.
Their cases are just two among many cases of human rights violations inflicted on peasant families by government troops, as discussed in many fora during the various activities on the occasion of the “celebrations.” Kalumbay Chair Jomorito Goaymon said the attacks against indigenous peoples not only in Mindanao, but also in other parts of the country continue even with the earlier pronouncement by Pres. Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III that he would look into these cases.
Beverly Longid, Katribu Partylist president, said the attacks against the Aggay and the Higaonon show that the Aquino government’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan is like Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya I and II. During the period from June 30, 2010 to July 30, 2011, the national IP center Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Kamp) has documented eight cases of extra-judicial killings that include three Dumagats, one Aggay, two B’laans and two Higaonons. “Earlier, there was a trend of killing indigenous hunters, often mistaken as armed rebels. This time, it has become clearer that upland farmers and village leaders become targets because of their involvement in the people’s struggle for self-determination and in the defense of the ancestral domain,” added Longid.