“Ironically, under the government of BS Aquino, warlords and paramilitary groups were not dismantled. Worst, the same warlord group is said to be facilitating the entry of mining and oil palm plantations like that of A. Brown Company in the area.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — A few days before Human Rights Day, and more than a year after Indigenous People’s (IP) leader Gilbert Paborada was murdered, another IP active in defending their farmland against landgrabbing was killed last Dec 1. Rolen Langala, a member of IP group Pangalasag, was brutally murdered at 1:00 a.m. on December 1, the Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization said in a statement.
Langala was a farmer planting corn and coconut in Misamis Oriental. His farm and those of his fellow IPs are reportedly being seized by A. Brown company as it seeks to expand its oil palm plantation in the province. With Paborada and other IPs, Langala had been opposing the company’s drive to takeover their farm lands, Datu Jomorito Guaynon, chairman of Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization, told Bulatlat.com today. Guaynon said five IPs were specifically threatened by known representatives and armed goons of A. Brown. Of the five, Paborada and now Langala had been killed.
Langala, 35, suffered an undetermined number of stab wounds and two gun shots in the head. His remains currently lie in state in the church of Iglesia Filipina Independiente at Opol, Misamis Oriental.
As reported by witnesses to Kalumbay, Langala and a companion, another Pangalasag member, Ruel “Don-don” Tagupa, were about to go home after enjoying the festivities in the upcoming fiesta held at the public plaza of Barangay Bagocboc, Opol town of Misamis Oriental, when their way at the exit was blocked by village Councilor Nestor Bahian and Ramil Salban.
Quoting the witnesses, Councilor Bahian confronted Tagupa with the words: “Musokol naman kaha mo, isog mo?” (Are you already tough?) To which Tagupa replied: “Kung kami unahan, mosukol rasad mi.” (If people would hurt us first, we would retaliate). After that, witnesses said Councilor Bahian pushed Tagupa away and then took out a .45 caliber pistol.
Meanwhile, Rolen Langala was assaulted by Ramil Salban and a certain Arnel.
Moments later, Langala was seen bloodied from multiple stab wounds. It was after he collapsed that, according to a witness, Councilor Bahian allegedly shot him in the head for good measure.
The Kalumbay regional lumad organization vehemently condemns the murder of Langala and the perpetration of culture of impunity in Misamis.
The IP group said that historically, for several decades now, it has been an “open secret” to the residents of Barangays Bagocboc and adjacent villages that only a gang of few and some armed untouchables are controlling the area. Using terror tactics, politicians exploit the presence of these armed terrorists to secure winning votes during elections, so the local political dynasty holds complete power.
Kalumbay said that until now, the ruling political dynasties in the area and its armed groups have victimized many poor and voiceless farmers with impunity.
“Ironically, under the government of BS Aquino, warlords and paramilitary groups were not dismantled. Worst, the same warlord group is said to be facilitating the entry of mining and oil palm plantations like that of A. Brown company in the area.” According to Kalumbay, the warlord’s army and representatives of the company strive to make sure that those who oppose them “suffer the consequences.”
Jomorito Goaynon asserted that because of the economic interests of firms like A. Brown, “local bureaucrats such as Councilor Bahian have been emboldened to commit rights abuses in their brutal campaign to suppress the legitimate dissent directed at their racketeering schemes.”
Continuing rights violations for expanding oil palm plantation
According to an International Fact Finding Mission(IFFM) conducted May 2011, several incidents of rights abuses were found to have been committed due to the presence of A. Brown agri-business firm.
Sometime in November 2011, for example, the house of Victoria Tabubo, 64, who was amongst those forced to leave by the shooting incident earlier, was burned down by A. Brown security guards. They took away the coconuts she was tending to and they planted palm oil on her land.
On February 11 and 12 of 2011, the security guards of A. Brown reportedly pointed their guns at Pangalasag leader Gilbert Paborada, as they disliked the fact that the latter was asserting their prior rights over the land. One of the guards even warned Paborada then that he would be shot at if the farmers did not leave their farms.
Sometime in October 2011, Councilor Jimiterio Sharot along with plantation laborers and armed security guards went to the farm of Amadeo Payla, 66, and uprooted and destroyed his crops with chemicals while pointing a gun at him. Sharot is the principal manpower provider of A. Brown.
Leoncito Mabao, 34, was also held at gunpoint by around 20 armed security guards while his crops (e.g. bananas, cassava, corn and coconut) were being uprooted and destroyed with chemicals by A. Brown goons.
Kalumbay and human rights groups in the region fear for “another whitewash” on the government’s investigation, saying that based on its record, not a single case of human rights violations complaint allegedly perpetrated by local officials and their cohorts had been given justice in the area.
Adding another case, last October 2013, in clear public view, Opol town councillor Cecilio Abuhan, the husband of Bagocboc village Chairperson Margilen Abuhan, was “cleared” of charges of alleged illegal possession of firearms from his participation in a raid conducted by Criminal Investigation & Detection Group (CIDG). Based on frightened villagers’ accounts, they saw sacks full of assorted high-powered rifles being hauled by authorities during the raid on the house of Abuhan. The following day, the villagers were shocked to hear the news that not a single firearm was reportedly found or declared.
Kalumbay demanded a fair and speedy investigation on the continuing rights violations of IPs. They urged the Aquino government to dismantle paramilitary and warlord groups including those in Opol, Misamis Oriental. They called on the public to support their struggle against land conversion, and for their fellow IPs to regain their lands and ancestral domain.