Task force to pursue killers of indigenous leaders in Mindanao

Militia warns of 'bloody and difficult' manhunt
Task force to pursue killers of indigenous leaders in Mindanao

Students re-enact the killing of two Manobo leaders and a school director by alleged members of a paramilitary group in Surigao del Sur province during the Sept. 12 wake of the victims. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Philippine authorities have formed a task force that will go after the killers of two tribal leaders and a school director in Surigao del Sur province.

"We will scour areas where the suspects may have possibly hidden," said police Senior Superintendent Narciso Verdadero, task force head.

The Sept. 1 killings of Emerito Samarca, head of a tribal school, and community leaders Dionel Campos and Aurelio Sinzo in Lianga town have prompted the evacuation of some 3,000 Manobo indigenous people.

Piya Macliing Malayao, secretary general of the indigenous peoples group Katribu, said the government is "doing nothing to end the impunity."

On Sept. 16, Malayao filed a complaint for human rights violations against the Philippine military and several militia groups before the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

"The killings of indigenous peoples are not acceptable and must end at once," Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, the special rapporteur, told ucanews.com. 

Malayao expressed hope that Corpuz "will really help us in pressuring the government to act on the situation of the people."

She said that the support of the U.N. official for the capture of the killers and the calls to disband and disarm paramilitary groups is "very positive."

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights group Karapatan, said an independent investigation "should be pursued, instead of the government's usual response to form an interagency task force, which amounts to nothing."

Data from Karapatan show that of the 282 victims of extrajudicial killings in the country as of Aug. 31, at least 73 were indigenous people. Of the 73, 57 were from Mindanao.

Verdadero, meanwhile, told ucanews.com that he will hold a dialogue with various tribal groups in the province to convince the suspects in the killings to surrender.

"If after exhausting all means and talks and there will be no results, then we have no choice left but to get them using our troops," the police officer said.

A leader of the paramilitary group allegedly behind the killings warned that the manhunt operation can be "bloody and difficult."

Datu Dangpanan, who described himself as spokesman of the Magahat-Bagani Force in Surigao del Sur, said the suspects "will make it difficult for the government to catch them."

He warned of the possibility of "bloody misencounters."

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Authorities have identified the suspects — brothers Loloy and Bobby Tejeros, Margarito Layno, and 20 other "John Does" — as members of a paramilitary group led by Datu Calpet Egua.


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