In Paquibato, a `Sham’ Public Hearing on Atrocities

Apr. 08, 2006

What was billed as the City Council’s public hearing to get Paquibato residents to talk about the atrocities in the district turned into a display of official indifference and, according to witnesses and victims, arrogance.

Col. Mirar, Councilor Militar and Col. del Rosario

By Cheryll D. Fiel

Photos by Barry Ohaylan

PAQUIBATO, Davao City Lenny Nacua wanted officials to hear what happened to her son, and perhaps get some assurance that justice wouldbe done.

So on Wednesday, April 5, Nacua mustered the courage to face the officials onstage city councilors, police and military officials, Lumad leaders during the City Council’s public hearing here on the killings and violence in Paquibato District allegedly perpetrated by a group of bandits.

battle-ready troops practically surrounded the venue

Nacua narrated that, on March 12, her son Luciano, 15, was brutally murdered while he was in their hut gathering ingredients for binignit, a sweet porridge made of glutinous rice, sweet potatoes, banana and coconut milk. Luciano Nacua’s death his eyes were gouged, his neck was cut off, his armpits stabbed repeatedly was just one of several here six so far that has terrorized this hinterland district andprompted many residents to evacuate.

“So, sir, what can you say about the death of my son? Why was he killed? He didn’t do anything wrong,” Nacua said, addressing Councilor Bonifacio Militar, the chairman of the council’s Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights, one of two committees that organized thepublic hearing.

Unad, Labawan and del Rosario

Labawan, Unad and del Rosario confer before the hearingInstead of commiserating, or at least showing sympathy to Nacua and the other victims who attended the public hearing, Militar launched into a series of questions that, in the end, made it appear that he was unconvinced of what Nacua had just told the committee.

By the end of the public hearing, there was a sense among many who attended that it was all for naught, that it didn’t answer the residents’ questions and, perhaps more importantly, failed to reassure them that the violence would stop.

Paquibato has long been a battle ground for the military and the communist New People’s Army. The human-rights group Karapatan had alleged that the military was implementing a low-intensity conflict campaign in the district, using Lumads against the NPA. The situation has lately become complicated, with reports indicating that the Lumads were forcibly driving away non-Lumads, with speculation that this would pave the way for business interests eyeing the district’s vastlands.

A Paquibato resident speaksThe committee hearing was dominated by the military, specifically the Task Force Davao (TFD), which had dozens of troops, armored personnel carriers and army trucks practically surrounding the venue of the hearing and a videographer documenting the whole process. As a result, some of the residents held back on their testimonies, with one (shown at left) covering his face with a sweater and sunglasses while he spoke.
The hearing was also an opportunity for Colonel Eduardo del Rosario, the commander of the TFD, and tribal leaders Joel Unad and Ruben Labawan to harangue their critics among them Councilor Nenita Orcullo, who had earlier called for the pullout of the military in the

Human-rights groups have accused the military and the tribal leaders of having let loose the bandits, led by a certain Commander Dante, to terrorize the residents as part of the government’s counter-insurgency campaign. The communist New People’s Army operates in Paquibato and had initially been blamed by del Rosario of being behind the violence here.

“I am not satisfied. Some things should have been cleared,” Gregoria Basilon, a resident of Malabog, told after the hearing. “It seemed they did not want to hear the truth.” Basilon was one of the residents from Malabog, a farflung village of Paquibato, who traveled all the way to the district proper that day just to attend
the public hearing.

Ranil Estrogo: Cut down by MilitarRanil Estrogo, a friend of Luciano Nacua’s, also failed to tell the committee what he had wanted to say. He told after the hearing that he was prepared to inform the committee that he had heard Luciano Nacua’s murderers, who came to his store one day, say incriminating things about the murder. He was also prepared to testify that he knew Commander Dante and other members of his band, where their camp was, and that this camp was just across the militarydetachment of the 73rd Infantry Battalion.

But before he could even say these things, Militar cut him off. “Did you actually see the stabbing (of Luciano Nacua)? Answer first my question. Did you really see the murder. Answer me. That is the question. Did you see it? Were you there?”

When Estrogo couldn’t answer yes or no, and without allowing Estrogo to finish what he was saying, Militar turned to Councilor Jimmy Dureza to ask him if he had questions. A visibly disappointed Estrogo went back to his seat. “They are very intelligent people,” Estrogo “They can easily manipulate us.”

Marcos CaneteMarcos Caete, the father of one of the murder victims, also expressed his disappointment about the hearing. “It’s the same thing. We still end up with the police,” Caete said, referring to the Paquibato police, which admitted during the hearing that they were helpless about the killings.

A city councilor contacted by said a public hearing is not necessarily like a court hearing. The committee and the presiding chairman should give as much leeway as possible to witnesses, particularly if the committee is trying to establish the facts of a complicated issue such as Paquibato, the councilor said.

The councilor also questioned the way the public hearing was conducted in Paquibato. “The committees went to Paquibato in order to listen to people who could not go to the City Council. But were the people given the chance to freely speak out?” the councilor asked.

Lenny NacuaThe councilor said the overwhelming presence of army troops at the venue “naturally would discourage people from talking, especially since the military has been accused of being behind the Alamara in Paquibato,” referring to the anti-communist paramilitary group of Lumad fanatics.

Aside from del Rosario, present at the hearing were 401st Brigade Commander Luini Mirar. They arrived at the covered court of the Paquibato proper in an armored personnel carrier, escorted by a six-by-six truck, two vans and military jeeps full of soldiers in fullbattle gear. The army also took videos and photos of the proceedings.

“The TFD and the military already had a chance to air their side on the issue during the first hearing at the City Council,” the councilor said.

The councilor added that what the Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights, chaired by Militar, and Committee on Peace and Public Safety, chaired by Dureza, should have done was conduct separate hearings for each party involved. “You cannot expect to get to the bottom of the matter if you allow the military to intimidate bytheir mere presence alone victims and witnesses,” the councilor said.

Councilor Jimmy DurezaIndeed, in a rather unusual spectacle during the hearing, del Rosario and Mirar openly criticized members of the committee, particularly Councilor Nenita Orcullo. They directly attacked the points enumerated in an earlier Orcullo resolution blaming the military for armingLumads in Paquibato and using them against the NPA.

Del Rosario, in his speech, said the NPA “caused the division” that forced the city to conduct the public hearing. “I believe Councilor Orcullo is a victim of this deception. That’s why she has made this decision (the resolution) without consulting us,” he said.

Earlier this month, del Rosario told reporters that the City Council had no business investigating the atrocities in Paquibato because, according to him, it was a purely police matter. The statement provoked strong reactions from human-rights group, who called del Rosario arrogant for trying to intimidate councilors from doing its responsibilities, such as investigating matters that directly affect their constituents.

Del Rosario also defended the paramilitary group Cafgu, saying Cafgu members had no participation in the atrocities in Paquibato and that the bandits are also the military’s enemies because they discredit the Cafgus by their actions. “This is plain banditry, plain criminal act and I have yet to hear one Cafgu committing atrocities against civilians,” he said.

Councilor Nenita OrculloDel Rosario earlier said that Commander Dante is an NPA leader and that the NPA was behind the atrocities. He later made a turn-around, saying that Dante had been an anti-communist operative that has since turned to banditry.

Del Rosario denied that the military was arming the anti-communist group Alamara, saying machetes had been used in the killings and that there was no such group organized by the military. “What I know is that they (Alamara) are from Bukidnon,” he said.

“Clearly now,” del Rosario added, “the root cause of the trouble in Paquibato are the bandits. We are thankful now that we have clarified the problem. There was just a misunderstanding,” he said, referring to Orcullo’s resolution calling for the pullout of the military in Paquibato.

Orcullo did not rebut del Rosario. In fact, she contradicted her earlier position when she declared that the military was innocent of the allegations. “We have made it clear that the military, the Cafgus and the chieftains have no hand in this. We have determined the problem,” she said. (Cheryll D. Fiel/

To learn more about the crisis in Paquibato, click here.

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