DAVAO CITY — The Army’s Eastern Mindanao Command said it condemned the burning of an IP (indigenous people) school in Surigao del Sur, adding it was a handiwork of “still unidentified lawless armed group wearing Army uniforms.”
At around 2:00 am on Thursday, the cottage used by the staff and teachers of an alternative school, Alcadev (Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development), catering to tribal students in Padiay village, Sibagat town in Agusan del Sur was burned.
Along with the cottage, burned were the sewing machine, generator, farm tools and the school’s nursery composed of 5,000 banana and abaca seedlings.
Lorena Dorilag, Alcadev’s volunteer teacher in Padiay village said the damage on the infrastructure and other properties amounted to an estimate of P400,000.
Read related story here: Who burned the IP’s school in Agusan del Sur?
Army spokesman Captain Alberto Caber said the initial investigation of the police “revealed that the perpetrators disguised as soldiers of 23rd Infantry Battalion.”
Caber said 23rd IB Commander Lt. Col. Lynart Castisimo reported “that he has received reports that there were groups who procured Army uniforms and military backpacks in one of tailoring shops in Butuan City earlier.”
“I talked to the battalion commander of the 23rd IB and he said that last month and early this month he received reports that there were groups who procured Army uniforms and military backpacks. Then yesterday he said the barangay captain reported to him that the Alcadev cottage was burned,” said Caber.
Castisimo said “it is clear that the uniforms were used by the perpetrators in the burning of Alcadev cottage.”
“We strongly deny the involvement of our soldiers and we condemn the burning of Alcadev cottage by the lawless bandit group,” he said.
For his part, Caber said “Kahit ako personally nagiisip ako, kung naka-army uniform, normal yun lalo na para sa mga hindi sumusuporta sa Army 23rd IB ang iisipin na gumawa nun. Pero sabi ni Lt. Col. Catisisimo walang sundalo sa area (I personally have thought of it, that it is normal for people, especially those who do not support the Army, to think that it was the 23rd IB who did it. But Lt. Col. Catisismo said there was no soldier in the area),” he said.
He said the motive could be “to make the Army accountable for something that it has not done.”
Caber also denied that they accused the Alcadev school as a school of the New People’s Army.
“That statement is not ours,” he said.
But for Maricres Pagaran, officer-in-charge of Alcadev, they see the military as the only one who is against their school.
“Sa tinuod lang, wala mi laing mapasanginlan kay wala mi laing tao nga nahimo namong ka-kontra (The truth is, we cannot blame anyone because there is no other person whom we made enemies with),” she said.
Pagaran said it is the military that is against their operation because they support the indigenous people’s struggle against mining corporations who want to enter the community.
“Opposition to large-scale mining has always been the advocacy of our school and we are active in the campaign against large scale mining because it is clear who will benefit from it, and that is not the Lumads,” she said.
Pagaran said the burning of their satellite campus in Padiay village is part of the harassment against them which started since 2005.
“Parehas ra na sa gihimo nila tung September 1, wala lang gihapon nila giangkon. Para sa amoa, duna gihapon siyay kalambigitan, tungod kay nakatarget na gyud nila nga paphaon nila ang Alcadev. Mao nang dili gyud mi motuo nga wala silay kalambigitan (That’s similar to what they said on the September 1 incident which they also denied. For us, it is related to that incident because they have already targeted to shut down Alcadev. That’s why we do not believe that they have nothing to do with this),” said Pagaran.
“We are used to them telling lies, even if they have a hand on doing something they will say they don’t have anything to do with it,” she said.
The Alcadev’s main campus in Sitio Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur where school director Emerito Samarca was killed was founded on July 19, 2004. From then on, other campuses of Alcadev emerged, including the one burned in Sibagat, Agusan del Sur.
Pagaran said until now the perpetrators of the killing are not arrested even if a warrant of arrest has already been issued against them.
The witnesses of the incident has already filed multiple murder charges against the suspects who were identified as Bobby Tejero, Loloy Tejero, Garito Layno and 20 other John Does.
Caber said the Army will do everything to help in the case resolution.
But Pagaran also claimed that the killers are being “coddled” by the military.
“This is what makes it the solving the case difficult,” she said, adding that sometimes she “loses hope” that the case will prosper.
“The truth is, sometimes I feel there is no hope at all. But because of the support of the public who believes in our cause, we still believe that we will succeed in our struggle,” she said.
Pagaran said once they get back from the human rights caravan Manilakbayan, they will file appropriate charges against the perpetrators of the burning of their school.
Around 700 IPs from Mindanao are now in the capital to protest “militarization” of their communities and the trumped-up charges against tribal leaders. The Lumads will also protest the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on November 18-20. (davaotoday.com)