The Save Our Schools (SOS) Network revealed more details in the death of two volunteer teachers, a community health worker and their two drivers last week in what human rights groups call the New Bataan Massacre.
SOS said volunteer teachers Chad Booc and Gelejurain Ngujo II, volunteer health worker Elgyn Balonga and their two still unidentified drivers were victims of another massacre of Lumad and their defenders by the military.
The group reported the victims were on their way back to Davao City after a community visit and research work when waylaid by the military.
SOS said the last time anyone has heard from the victims was about 9:30 in the evening of Wednesday, February 23 when Balonga requested her family to come fetch them once they are back in Davao City.
In a public announcement last Friday, the 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army said that the five were New People’s Army rebels that engaged them in a 15-minute firefight Thursday, February 24.
The Philippine News Agency report on the military’s announcement did not mention a time of incident.
The SOS however said residents told them that no firefight happened last Thursday, an information confirmed by the Communist Party of the Philippines that said the NPA unit in the area denied such occurrence.
“We strongly assert that the victims were community volunteers and civilians from varying backgrounds, and their murder must merit the strongest condemnation,” SOS said.
Who were they?
Booc’s life as an activist and volunteer teacher in a Lumad school was well-documented in media articles and interviews.
His prominence earned for him red-tagging attacks by government officials and institutions who alleged he was an indoctrinator and recruiter of young Lumad to join the NPA.
He was from a middle class background and a University of the Philippines cum laude graduate with a degree in computer science.
“He turned down a career and life of comfort and became a volunteer teacher. In 2016, he volunteered to be a teacher for ALCADEV in Surigao del Sur,” SOS said.
The Bakwit School is the roving program for Lumad students fleeing from the militarization of their communities and the forcible closure of their schools. It had been held in Davao City, Cebu City and Metro Manila and hosted by education institutions, churches and the Commission on Human Rights.
In 2021, Booc was one of the petitioners against the government’s controversial Anti-Terror Law before the Supreme Court.
Like Booc, Nguho was a college graduate who had earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education majoring in English from the Liceo de Davao – Briz Campus in Tagum City, Davao del Norte.
“He came from a humble family of farmers and was known for being patient and soft-spoken,” SOS said of the second victim.
Immediately after graduating, Nguho became a teacher at the Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao (CTCSM).
After a year, he decided to become a volunteer teacher for the Bakwit School in Manila in 2018, and then in Cebu in 2019 and 2020.
“Like Chad, he was also a recipient of threats and intimidation from state forces for his work as a volunteer Lumad school teacher,” SOS said.
Balonga meanwhile was a community health worker who served at the Lumad sanctuary at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines compound in Davao City from 2013 to 2018.
Balonga facilitated internships by medical students at the sanctuary, SOS.
“Elgyn was active in numerous medical missions in remote areas such as Talaingod and Kapalong, Davao del Norte. She lived a life of service for the Lumad, farmers, and workers,” the group added.
“Throughout their years of service, Chad, Jurain, and Elgyn had been subjected to threats, harassment, intimidation, including death threats, red-tagging and terror-tagging, and surveillance. It is then even more deplorable that the people who take up the initiative to serve in far-flung communities, where the Duterte government cares little to address the needs of its residents, are targeted and killed,” SOS said.
Human rights and activists groups held a condemnation rally at the Commission on Human Rights’ Jose W. Diokno Park in Quezon City last Saturday to condemn the killing of the victims.
The Cebu chapter of the SOS Network led a similar condemnation rally in the city on Sunday, February 27.
SOS Cebu spokesperson Meg Lim said the New Bataan 5 Massacre was not the first spate of killings of the Lumad and their advocates.
“Through the years, there had been the Lianga Massacre, the Pangantukan Massacre, the brutal killings of Obello Bay-ao and now, the deaths of 5 unarmed civilians, volunteer teachers and valuable members of the Lumad community,” Lim said.
“The AFP is so (bent) to silence the Lumad that it has repeatedly used the same old narrative of an ‘encounter’ to legitimize its brutal killing of innocent civilians in the mere act of service to their communities,” Lim added.
The Cebu rally was attended by Booc’s family, the group reported.
Nikki, Chad’s younger sister, demanded justice for her brother and the other victims’ deaths through a fair, impartial, and thorough investigation of the incident.
The SOS revealed the families have yet to retrieve the victims’ remains, anticipating possible harassment and intimidation from the military.
“We are calling on all IP rights advocates, friends of the victims, the media, and every Filipino to join us and the families of the victims’ as we ensure that they are brought home,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)