Genesis Ambason, 23 years old, a member of Banwaon tribe and the secretary general of Tagdumahan, the Lumad organization in San Luis, Agusan del Sur was just resting on their way to a nearby village when fired upon by soldiers. His body was later found bearing signs of torture.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Human rights organizations and groups advocating the rights of indigenous peoples are charging the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), which is under the 26th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine (IBPA), for killing an anti-mining and indigenous leader In Agusan del Sur, Mindanao, Southern Philippines last September 13.
According to a report from the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in the Northern Mindanao Region (RMP-NMR), members of Cagfu tortured and killed 23-year old Genesis Ambason, a member of Banwaon tribe and the secretary general of Tagdumahan, the Lumad organization in San Luis, Agusan del Sur. Amason was married and resident of Balit village in the said province.
The factsheet Rmp-NMR provided Bulatlat.com stated that Amason was killed by seven members of the Cafgu unit of the 26th IBPA that had a detachment at Sitio Tambo, Binikalan village in San Luis. The Cafgu members were identified as Artemio Sublidan, Sammy Sinato, Mama Mapisahan, Macky Lunsayan, Hunas Sinatao, Bebot Rocero and a certain Bigot. The Cafgu members were also reportedly with three soldiers of the 26th IBPA at the time of the killing.
The RMP-NMR said that around 8 p.m. last Sept. 13, the victim was with four other individuals on their way to Binikalan village to mine as well as to buy gold. Ambason was said to have with him some P18,000 ($429) in cash with which he intended to buy gold. They also had with them a pan, a weighing scale, and a water container. They had walked a long distance when they decided to take a rest some 200 meters from the detachment of the 26th IBPA.
It was said that the group had not been resting a long time when they heard footsteps rushing toward them. Ambason reportedly trained his flashlight in the direction of the footsteps when shots were suddenly fired. The shots, Ambason’s companions said, came from the direction of the detachment. Ambason was immediately hit while everyone else were forced to run for cover.
The following day, 6 a.m. on Sept. 14, the Sitio Tambo tribal head Datu Amay went to the site and found Ambason’s body, some 130 meters from the 26th IB detachment. He dragged Ambason’s body to the side of the road in Tambo village and notified the village chair of Balit about the incident. Afterwards, a resident of Balit who happened to be Ambason’s relative took the body and brought it home to Almira, the victim’s 19-year-old wife. Almira is eight-months pregnant with their first child.
According to reports, Almira cleaned her husband’s body and saw that it bore four gunshot wounds, two at the right side of the chest, and two at the back, one on each side of the spine near the hips. What was more shocking and caused Almira great grief, however, was how her husband also had dark bruises on his chest and face. His teeth were also gone, and his head appeared soft, smaller, and was almost not recognizable. She suspected that her husband was tortured.
In the meantime, all the money that the victim had in his beltbag was gone. When the tribal leaders sought to get it back, the Cafgu refused to admit knowledge of it. Almira said the money was also supposed to be used for her expenses when she gives birth and for the baby’s needs after it was born.
One of the suspects, Sublidan, has since said that his group clashed with Ambason’s group of New People’s Army rebels. He also accused Ambason’s companions of being NPA rebels who should be charged with rebellion.
Ambason’s organization, Tagdumahan had been resisting the entry of large-scale mining in their ancestral lands, particularly the Malampay, Tambuli and Makilala Mining corporations. Since the 80s, the Banwaon tribe of San Luis and the adjacent communities have fought against the incursion of foreign and local mining corporations in their ancestral domain. Tagdumahan is also a member of Kalumbay, a regional indigenous people’s alliance.
During the Macapagal-Arroyo regime, the military accused Tagdumahan of being a front for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). On Sept. 28, 2009, Tagdumahan’s chair, Aladino Badbaran or “Datu Mansubaybay”, 45, was ambushed with his pregnant wife in Balit village, San Luis. Datu Mansubaybay died while his wounded wife was able to escape.
In the meantime, the Karapatan human rights organization said soldiers from the 26th Infantry Battalion have already been found responsible for various human rights violations in recent months. On May 29, 2011, they were said to be behind the killing of Richard Paras, 19, a farmer of New Tubigon village, Sibagat, Agusan del Sur whom they claimed to have died in an “encounter.”
The soldiers have also been behind various illegal arrests, torture and forced surrender of villagers, and illegal searches of houses and divestment of properties in Sibagat.
Killed for his human rights advocacy
The Katribu Indigenous Peoples’ Partylist also expressed its indignation over Ambason’s killing, saying that he was the 17th indigenous peoples’ leader killed under the Aquino administration and the second leader of Tagdumahan after the killing of Badbaran in 2009.
According to Katribu, only last June 25, 2012, Ambason led Tagdumahan officers and village chiefs in a dialogue with the military’s 26th IB. In the said dialogue, Ambason and Tagdumahan with the aid of the Provincial Department of Social Welfare and Services (Provincial DSWD) successfully worked for the release of Tagdumahan members Noel Canhatan, 22, Rogelio Gallino 25, Jacquilo Gumansil 21, Jojo Gomez (age unidentified), Jemar Matibulig (age unidentified), and Maymay Matibulig (age unidentified). The military unlawfully detained them on June 22, 2012 on trumped-up charges.
“Obviously, this caught the ire of the military and the Cafgu. Katribu believes that Genesis’ killing was in revenge against his consistent human rights work for the Banwaons,” the group said.
Katribu said that under the Aquino administration, to make assertions for the human rights of indigenous peoples was to risk being the target of harassment and worse, human rights violations including torture and extrajudicial killing.
“Aquino remains silent on the killings and other human rights violations against indigenous peoples by military and paramilitary troops. Is this because he earlier recommended the formation of mining militias or paramilitary troops to protect mining interests in the country? He has not called for immediate investigation on the 18 killings of indigenous peoples. Is this because he signed Executive Order 79 that would further the implementation of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, a law consistently opposed by indigenous peoples for allowing large-scale mining in the country?,” said the group’s president Beverly L. Longid.
Justice for victims of EJKs
For her part, the secretary-general of Karapatan Cristina Palabay said the brutality of Ambason’s death is “reminiscent of how Fr. Tullo Favali, PIME was killed by paramilitary forces in 1985, under the Marcos dictatorship. In 2011, the same paramilitary forces killed another PIME priest, Fr. Pops Tentorio.”
Another group Tebtebba or the Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education) called on the Aquino government to undertake an impartial investigation into Ambason’s killing and bring the perpetrators to justice.
“Clearly, the emerging trend is that indigenous leaders, activists and organizations who are fighting for the protection of their lands and territories against large-scale commercial mining are the ones who are subjected to assassinations. A few weeks ago, the attempted assassination of Timuay Lucenio Manda, which led to the killing of his son, Jordan, took place,” it said,
Its executive director Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said the Aquino government, which is touting its “Daang Matuwid” policy and programme should systematically investigate all these cases of assassinations of indigenous leaders, including their families.
Tauli-Corpuz was also a former chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
“The Aquino government cannot claim that its program to clean up the government is a success if such killings, usually perpetrated by its own military and paramilitary personnel continue. Even if such killings were done by paid mercenaries, the government is still legally obliged to protect the rights of indigenous peoples. The record of this government in terms of adhering to its obligations to international human rights law is so pathetic. We call on the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Office of the President and the Commission on Human Rights to immediately undertake an investigation of this case. We also call for protection of the witnesses to these murders, such as those who are now charged with rebellion in this case,” she said.