In Makilala, Unsolved Deaths Haunt Villagers

Mar. 29, 2006

Three armed men whose faces were covered with bonnets and shawls entered the house at around one in the morning. They awakened us by pointing their flashlights to our faces, Gabi, an 18-year-old resident, said. The intruders wore what looked like military boots. They were searching for somebody, she said. When they saw Jay, they dragged him outside the house.

contributed photo
Members of the fact-finding team led by Karapatan on their way to the house of Salvador Dante Jr., a murder victim in Makilala, North Cotabato. (Contributed photo)

By Marilou Aguirre

MAKILALA, North Cotabato The sound of gunshots sent Marcelo Heruela looking for his friend Salvador Dante Jr., who had left his house minutes earlier.

Some of my neighbors told me that the gunshots sounded like these came from near his house, Heruela, a 37-year-old skylab (passenger motorcycle) driver said.

Along with some neighbors, Heruela searched the road leading to Dantes house. About 50 meters from the house, they saw Dante, slumped in the grass, dead.

The Feb. 3 killing of Dante, a 40-year-old peasant and skylab driver from sitio (hamlet) Conception, barangay (village) Kisante, this town, remains a puzzle to both his family and neighbors.

Some, however, are convinced that it was just the beginning. Dante, after all, was allegedly marked for death, along with more than a dozen other residents of Kisante who are allegedly on the militarys hit list. They had been accused of either members or sympathizers of the New Peoples Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines that began waging a Maoist revolution in the Philippine countryside 37 years ago today. (Read the partys anniversary statements here.)

Dante’s murder is among the dozens of unsolved politically motivated killings in the country being blamed on the Philippine military. (Read the militarys statement denying a hand in these murders.)

He was on the militarys list, said Osias Pabingwit, chairman of the Samahang Magbubukid ng Kisante (Organization of Farmers in Kisante).

In a recent fact-finding mission here, Pabingwit told that, late last year, a friend of his in the 39th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) showed him the list. (Pabingwit refused to divulge the soldiers name.) He said 16 persons from three sitios were on the list.

I was the No. 1 on the list, Pabingwit said. There are other five from sitio Pangayasan, tagged either as supporters or members of the NPA.

Pabingwit denied that Dante was ever a member of the NPA. Most of those on the list, he said, were already old. How can they accuse us of carrying arms? he asked. The only weapons we have are our sickle, our axe and other farming tools.

Ten Persons

Councilor Masaglang (Karapatan photo)Kisante councilor Matilde Masaglang was heading toward sitio Concepcion in the morning of Feb. 16 when she saw five soldiers from the 39th IB talking with skylab drivers. There were other soldiers standing nearby, she recalled.

Masaglang joined the conversation, she said, and heard the soldiers say that they will take 10 persons for every soldier slain by the NPA. At that time, it was not clear to me what they would do with the 10 individuals, she said. But after Dantes murder, she said, she knew. Today, she said, she and her fellow villagers fear for their lives.

Two days after Dantes murder, a volunteer for the progressive group Anakpawis was summarily killed in another village. Jay Allunar, 21, was shot on Feb. 5 by unidentified men outside the house of Rosita Ando in the nearby barangay of Malasila.

Allunar had been staying in the house of Ando, who is the grandmother of Allunars fiance, Beverly Gabi.

Gabi, 18, witnessed her fiancs grim fate. Three armed men whose faces were covered with bonnets and shawls entered the house at around one in the morning. They awakened us by pointing their flashlights to our faces, she said. The intruders wore what looked like military boots. They were searching for somebody, she said. When they saw Jay, they dragged him outside the house.

She said her grandparents were sleeping outside the room where she, Allunar, her cousin, a friend, and two children aged one and 11 slept. Allunar pleaded for help as the men dragged him. We were unable to move because one of the men pointed his gun at us, Gabi said. The men also took her cellular phone.

She looked out the window to see one of the men hit Allunar with the rifles butt many times, even as the victim clung to the trunk of a rambutan tree four meters away from the house.

One of the men saw Gabi by the window and pointed a gun at her. Mortified, she promptly closed the window. Moments later, three gunshots rang out.

It was only much later, at around five oclock in the morning, that they ventured outside the house, where they found Allunars dead body near the rambutan tree.

Sowing Fear

These incidents are sowing fear among the residents, who are now hesitant to go out and attend to their farms, afraid of similar attacks, said Heruela, Dantes friend.

Economically, life is very hard for me and my family these days, he said. I dont know what would become of us if we live in constant fear because of the threat of being killed, he told

Most of the residents who were on the military list had already fled; only Pabingwit and a certain Lita Rocaberte remained.

Since he moved here in 1996, Pabingwit said that soldiers from the different battalions conducted their regular roving in the hinterlands.

There was a time when a soldier pointed a gun at him while he was on his way to the farm. The soldier claimed he was an NPA member. No, you are not, Pabingwit recalled answering back. The NPAs passing by their area, he told him, never behaved the way the soldier did.

When the military asked him if Communist guerrillas still pass that area, Pabingwit replied: What do you expect? This is the countryside. There are even NPAs in the cities. You can read about them in the newspapers.

Pabingwit said the situation today is quite different. We dont suffer physical harassments anymore only sudden deaths, he said.

He was quick to add that they remained uncertain if the military are the real perpetrators of the killings. But based on our experience, the NPA would release statements after punishing somebody for crimes, among others. No NPA statements have been issued regarding the killings here, Pabingwit said.

Priority Areas

Col. Ruperto Pabustan, commanding officer of the 602nd Brigade here, had said in radio interviews that Kisante is one of the militarys priority areas of operation.

Pabustan said the NPA, not the military, had a hit list and had, according to him, sent out 18 members of the NPAs Sparrow unit all over the province.

Kisantes barangay captain, Lotero Pampangan, said the village council has created a group to look into the series of killings.

Pampangan also said he had talked with Makilala mayor Onofre Respicio on their plan to file a resolution for a dialogue with the Municipal Peace and Order Committee (MPOC). Respicio, in response, promised to call a meeting with members of the MPOC, which include the Philippine National Police.

The MPOC is composed of representatives from the local government, the Philippine National Police, the AFP and the religious sector, among others. Pampangan said he would raise the alleged military hit list during the meeting.


Meanwhile, the human-rights group Karapatan and the Interfaith Alliance for the Advance of Peoples Rights had asked for the pullout of the 39th IB from the area.

In the two groups fact-finding report, the groups asked North Cotabato governor Emmanuel Piol and other government investigative bodies to conduct a thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigation on the series of killings perpetrated against civilians, farmers and members of progressive groups like Bayan and Bayan Muna.

The report also called on the government to uphold and promote human rights and international humanitarian law in light of the AFPs counter-insurgency program, and to implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, an agreement the Communists and the government had earlier signed. (Marilou M. Aguirere/

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