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SOS: New Bataan Massacre victims waylaid on Wednesday night, not Thursday as military claims

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.

READ: UP cum laude answers call to teach Lumad students

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.

WATCH: Altermidya interview of Chad Booc

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.

Widespread condemnation

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.

SOS Cebu’s indignation rally on the killing of volunteer teachers, a health worker and their two drivers. (SOS Network Cebu photo)

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)

Gov’t troops feed Aeta with human feces, groups report

Government soldiers forced an indigenous person to eat human feces during a military operation in San Marcelino, Zambales Province last August 21, groups reported.

The Umahon Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Umahon) and the Sandugo-Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination (Sandugo) said soldiers of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (76th IDPA) forced a certain Nalin Ramos to eat a soldier’s feces.

Ramos was among three Aeta residents, including relatives Witi Ramos and Jepoy Ramos, who were “physically assaulted, tortured and detained by the soldiers,” the groups said.

The three were also detained and hospitalized, Sandugo said. Upon their release, the three were too afraid to go home due to trauma and chose to stay at the evacuation center in Barangay Aglao in the said town.

“A total of 659 families evacuated due to repeated bombings of Aeta communities in Sitio Lumibao, San Marcelino,” Sandugo added.

Umahon said the soldiers wanted the Aeta community to evacuate their ancestral domain while they are pursuing suspected New People’s Army (NPA) guerillas in the area.

Four Philippine Army helicopters reportedly dropped bombs in the community.

The Angelite, the student newspaper of the Holy Angel University, reported that according to a chieftain of the said community, the 7th IDPA wanted the Aetas to evacuate so they could clear the area.

Community media group POKUS Gitnang Luzon reported there were no NPA guerillas caught in the operation.

Sandugo said the government troopers are liable under the anti-torture law for their “evil” and “inhumane” treatment of the Aetas.

“The acts of the 7th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines reeks of evilness. Their recent actions against our Aeta brothers and sisters are inhuman. It is pure evil, only demons would have the conscience to do this,” Sandugo said.

The group added the 7th ID’s bombardment of the IP community was meant to drive away the Aetas and pave the way for mining explorations by the Dizon Copper-Silver Mines, Inc.

The Aeta residents oppose the project to proted the environment and their ancestral lands, Sandugo said. Sandugo called on the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the incidents and demanded the soldiers’ pull out from the Aeta community. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

National minority groups hold national assembly

National minority groups from all over the country gathered at the University of the Philippines in Diliman Quezon City last October 26 for the Second National Political Assembly of Sandugo (Movement of Moro and Indigenous People for Self-Determination).

They held a mass action in Mendiola in Manila in the afternoon.

Sandugo called for the ouster of President Rodrigo Duterte as they assailed the widespread human rights violations perpetrated by the state forces.

They cited the martial law in Mindanao that caused Marawi City’s destruction, the escalated number of killings of their leaders and organizers, as well as red-tagging, forced surrenders and illegal arrest.

They also condemned the continuous bombings and militarization of state forces that cause forced evacuation of Lumad and Moro communities.

The groups also scored the intensified plunder of ancestral lands of big foreign agricultural corporations and mining.

According to Sandugo, Duterte is subservient to the policies of imperialist countries such as US and China and surrendered the country for foreign plunder, including ancestral lands of minorities. # (Video and report by Joseph Cuevas and Maricon Montajes)

Duterte insincere on talks – peace groups

By April Burcer

June 21 should have been the day “Stand Down Agreement” between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) is signed, but the ceasefire did not push through because of the government’s decision to cancel formal talks between the parties.

In the “Are GRP-NDFP Peace Talks Still Possible with Pres. Duterte?” forum Thursday hosted by the group Pilgrims for Peace, Rey Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center said the Rodrigo Duterte government’s cancellation of the signing and implementation of the stand down agreement as well as the resumption of formal negotiations next week shows its insincerity in pursuing peace.

According to Casambre, another backchannel session is supposed to be the held as a final preparatory meeting being the government panel and NDFP finally resume formal negotiations.

Casambre also recalled that Duterte cancelled the fifth round of talks in May 2017 even as “all members of both panels as well third-party facilitators are already in The Netherlands.”

There have been three other attempts to hold the fifth round of formal talks in Europe, but were all cancelled by Duterte.

Last November, Duterte again cancelled at the 11th hours even after his negotiators have assembled in Europe for their third attempt at a fifth round of formal talks with the NDFP.

Duterte subsequently issued his Proclamation 360 on November 23 declaring the unilateral termination of the peace negotiations.

Even then, Duterte’s Proclamation 360 failed to follow the agreed process of talks termination, said Casambre.

“Any party can terminate the peace talks but there is a proper procedure. A written notice should be sent by the party who wants to terminate the peace talks. And there is another 30 days after receipt before the agreement is officially terminated. There was no written notice, it’s [just] a public declaration,” Casambre explained.

Duterte later added the issuance of Proclamation 374 declaring NDFP allied organizations, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), as terrorist organizations.

Six hundred personalities were later listed by the Department of Justice as people behind the CPP and the NPA, including United Nations rapporteurs.

Bad Signal

It is not only with the NDFP that Duterte is insincere in talking peace, a Bangsamoro group said.

“For example, with the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law), even though it has been signed, we can only describe it as mangled, a sham, because the government can change it anytime. So the sincerity is a big question,”Jerome Succor Aba of SANDUGO and Moro Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA) said.

“The postponement of the peace talks brings a bad signal to the people of Mindanao. If there’s no peace talks, the human rights violations will double,” Aba said.

As the center of the armed conflict, Mindanao “calls for the resumption of the peace talks and honoring the agreements because what is happening in the peace talks have impact on the people,” Aba added.

He said, “We noticed that the time when the Proclamations 360 and 374 were issued were also the times when the military attacks in Mindanao were heightened. Since Martial Law was declared, more than 500,000 civilians evacuated from the area of conflict. Every week, farmers, Lumads and Moro are being killed.”

“What the AFP and Duterte government doesn’t realize is that Martial Law, in history, is what prompted the people to fight for freedom,” warned SANDUGO’s Kerlan Fanagel.

Disappointment and hope

Pilgrims for Peace and other peace advocates also expressed disappointment with the repeated postponement of the resumption of the formal talks.

“We want the peace negotiations to continue, to resolve the roots of the armed conflict. The bigger peace table with the Philippine citizenry has been on-going throughout the negotiations. The Filipino people want peace: both the peace that is the absence of armed conflict and, more importantly, peace that can be aided through agreeemnts like the anticipated Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforems (CASER),” the PFP statement said.

Casambre, however, said there is still hope for the peace talks.

“Yes, because there’s a people. Because when there’s a crisis, the people would make the parties go back to the peace negotiations,” Casambre said. #

Sultan: Relationship-building more than infrastructure rehab in Marawi

By April Burcer

“We want a rehabilitation that is anchored on cultural sensitivity and respect to religion, which we still don’t see until now,” Marawi City Sultan Abdul Hamidullah Atar during an Eid’l Fit’r Solidarity Affair Wednesday evening at the University of the Philippines in Diliman said.

Atar said that what they want is simple – to just be allowed to go back to Marawi while it is undergoing rehabilitation instead of having to wait three to four years as proposed by the government.

The solidarity affair, organized by Sandugo Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination and the Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA) in time for the end of the month-long Ramadan was held in support of the “Balik Marawi Now!” campaign that aims to help displaced Marawi residents to return to their homes.

The Sultan also expressed his concern over the proposed debris management that plans to dump millions of tons of debris into Lake Lanao for reclamation purposes.

“This is not only an issue of development but also an issue of the environment. The rehabilitation of Marawi should not only serve this generation but the next and the next. If the debris destroys Lake Lanao, what can we give to the future generation?” he asked.

Various organizations expressed their support, including Australian missionary Sr Patricia Fox who said that this problem is not isolated to the Philippines, but is also happening around the world “because of a system that does not recognize the rights of the people.”

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate promised that “the Makabayan bloc will file a resolution to investigate the increasing human rights violation in Marawi and the complaints surrounding the rehabilitation of the city, as we all know that this rehabilitation is not culturally insensitive.”

Arlene Brosas of the Gabriela Women’s Party, on the other hand,  encouraged people in Luzon and Visayas to speak out and stand up for the Mindanaoans who suffer militarization.

Other groups present during the solidarity event included the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), the Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Anakpawis, Gabriela, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Musikang Bayan, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, the Confederation for Unity Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees, Kadamay, among others. #

Jerome Aba narrates ordeal in US

Jerome Aba, Sandugo co-chairperson, narrates his ordeal at the San Francisco International Airport when denied entry and interrogated by US immigration and homeland security agents for nearly 30-hours.

He was invited by Church groups to talk about the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Rally held at San Francisco airport in support of detained Filipino activist

Dozens of supporters held a rally at the arrival area of the San Francisco International Airport upon learning that Sandugo co-chairperson Jerome Aladdin Succor Aba was held by the United States Immigration Service and denied entry despite a valid 10-year multiple entry visa.

Aba was supposed to address church groups and go on a speaking tour about human rights violations in the Philippines.

Aba was nonetheless deported back to the Philippines on board Philippine Airlines at 12:30, San Francisco time.

He is expected to land in Manila on Friday, April 20, at six o’clock in the morning.

US holds Filipino activist, denies entry

A prominent Mindanao activist is being held by US immigration authorities at the San Francisco International Airport, various human rights organizations and individuals said.

Sandugo – Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination co-chairperson Jerome Aladdin Succor Aba has been denied entry to the US and is being held at the airport, the alerts said.

Aba is scheduled for deportation back to the Philippines Wednesday night, April 18, US time, the alerts added.

US immigration authorities have not released the basis for the denial of entry against the Filipino activist.

Fellow Moro advocate Amirah Ali Lidasan said Aba’s travel papers are in order, including a 10-year multiple entry visa to the US.

Lidasan added that no lawyer has been allowed to see Aba even after 15 hours of detention and they do not know if he has been treated well and fed.

A well-known critic of the Rodrigo Duterte government’s war in Marawi and elsewhere the Philippines, Aba was invited to the US by several church institutions, including the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Sisters of Mercy, and the General Board of Global Ministries-United Methodist Church to serve as a resource speaker at their respective events.

Aba was to speak on the human rights situation in the Philippines under the Duterte government during the Sixteenth National Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) for Global Peace with Justice in Washington D.C. on April 20 to 23.

The EAD is an annual national gathering of churches on peace and social justice issues that includes lobbying visits to Capitol Hill.

He was also scheduled to go on a speaking tour elsewhere in the US to campaign for a stop to the killings in the Philippines sponsored by the US Chapter of International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines.

Filipino-Americans and other supporters including Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-USA have picketed the airport to demand Aba’s release and for him to be allowed entry to the US.

Advocates from outside the San Francisco/Bay Area have also launched a phone barrage to the US Customs and Border Protection Agency, the alert said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

74-year political prisoner dies while in hospital detention

BANGKOK, Thailand–A 74-year old political detainee arrested under President Rodrigo Duterte died in a Philippine hospital Tuesday.

Marcos Aggalao, a veteran of the struggle against Ferdinand Marcos’ Chico Dam project, died while on hospital arrest at the Kalinga Provincial Hospital in Tabuk September 12 from complications arising from multiple strokes he suffered in detention.

The victim suffered his third stroke in prison last August 29. He also suffered dementia.

Aggalao is the second political prisoner who had died in detention under the Duterte regime. Both were elderly and sickly.

On November 2016, Bernabe Ocasla, 66, a peasant organizer detained in Metro Manila City Jail also died after being in a coma for three days and subsequently suffered a heart attack.

Aggalao was arrested September 10, 2016 by the Kalinga Philippine National Police on charges of frustrated murder and murder, among others.

Aggalao hailed from Balbalan, Kalinga province, one of the many communities in the Cordilleras that fought the Marcos dictatorship.

“Sandugo holds the Duterte regime accountable for the death of 74-year old political prisoner because he failed to fullfill his commitment to release all political prisoners, especially the elderly and the ailing,” national minorities group Sandugo in a statement said.

“To him [Duterte], political prisoners are simply trump cards he can use to force the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) into a bilateral and permanent ceasefire agreement ahead of the agreement on social and economic reforms that includes guarantees on the rights of the national minorities to their ancestral lands and territories,” Sandugo added.

The group said Aggalao is another addition to a long list of those who have given their lives and prime years “to fight tyranny.”

“But Duterte, in complete disregard [of history], acts to reverse this…He has consistently moved towards the political rehabilitation of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was responsible for the multiple crimes of genocide against the Bangsamoro and the widespread dispossession of the national minorities of their ancestral lands,” Sandugo said.

Human rights group Karapatan for its part said Aggalao’s death is “enraging.”

Karapatan said Duterte’s “cheap tricks” to turn political prisoners into trump cards and deny them freedom have cost them their lives.

“It is not only their illness that have caused their deaths, but this government’s injustice and inaction. For every political prisoner who dies, ultimately, the GRP is accountable,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay in a statement said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

 

Sitio Sandugo as a cultural center

Sitio Sandugo is what the national minority groups participating in Lakbayan 2017 call their camp at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

On most days and nights, the camp is a bevy of activities that include those who visit them such as students, artists, medical workshops and others.

Watch this slideshow of how Sitio Sandugo becomes a center of cultural activities.

(Photos by Raymund and Pom Villanueva)