The three men killed in Lianga, Surigao del Sur on Sept. 1 were not only principled leaders who spent their whole lives helping others – they were also good, loving fathers.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
TANDAG CITY, Surigao del Sur – At around 8 p.m. last Sept. 7, church people, indigenous peoples, and progressives began to fill the social hall within the compound of the Surigao del Sur provincial capitol, which, for more than a week now, has housed the wake of the two Lumad leaders and an educator killed by a bandit group, in suspected collusion with the military.
The people sat on chairs, on the bleachers and even on the floor. Some bowed their heads and wept in silence, as they listened to one speaker after the other who shared what they know about the three who were brutally killed in Lianga – Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo, and Emerito Samarca, Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) executive director.
Looking at the crowd, 17-year-old Michelle Campos, Dionel’s daughter, was amazed at how her father had served and worked with all of them. She could not remember her father losing quality time with the family, even as he helped organize and educate their fellow Lumads. She concluded that her father must have had excellent time management skills.
“He was very supportive. He was good to us. He would always put his children’s concerns before his. He is loving,” Michelle told Bulatlat.com. Then she appeared to have been lost in her train of thought, possibly searching for better words that aptly describe her father, and that this Tagalog-speaking reporter would understand. She bowed down and returned a tight smile.
Campos, Sinzo and Samarca were killed on Sept. 1 in Han-ayan, Diatagon village in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, by a joint force of the military and the paramilitary group it created and armed, who referred to themselves as the Magahat-Bagani. The killings, two of which were done in front of the whole community, and the threats against the Lumads have forced thousands to flee from their homes. They have been seeking refuge at the Surigao del Sur Sport Center for more than a week now.
Michelle said her father Dionel had always encouraged and pushed her to do her best. She added that the perservance of her father — who raised their family and helped protect their entire community from large-scale and foreign mining that threaten to encroach on their land – has served as her inspiration.
“He worked non-stop,” she recalled.
Dionel would wake up early in the morning to tend to their fields. He planted rice, corn, vegetables, and other crops to sustain their needs. At times, he would work as a chainsaw operator. In their afternoons or in the evenings, Michelle said her father would always spend quality time with them.
“He loved to play guitar. And we, his children, are his singers. We would always try to hit the high notes, no matter how off key we were,” Michelle, the eldest in the brood of four, told Bulatlat.com.
When they are finished singing their hearts out, she said they would practice their tribal dance.
“Most importantly, we always eat together,” she added.
Despite the everyday struggle of making ends meet, Michelle said they had a happy family. But all these had now changed.
Michelle lives with her grandmother near the town center of Lianga, where she is enrolled in college. She only learned of her father’s death at around 9 a.m., hours after he was shot dead in front of their family and the Lumad community which he led.
Though their family knew the risks of her father’s work as a Lumad leader, she said they were not prepared for what happened on Sept. 1.
“I had a mental block. I could not believe it. A day before that, we spoke over the phone. I look at him now here, and I still could not believe he is gone,” she said.
Residents of the Han-ayan community, along with other Lumad communities in Diatagon village, were awakened by the banging on their houses by members of the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani. They were told to go to the nearby basketball court. Here, they called Campos to the front and, with his fellow Lumad people as witnesses, shot at point blank.
Residents said Campos’s killers even had the gall to remove their bonnets after the killing. The killers dared them to look at their faces and try to recognize them. They did. But would it be enough to bring justice to their dead leaders?
“We want justice to be served and this is the only way to move on from this very tragic incident. But can we achieve this with the justice system that we have in the country? I am not very sure,” Michelle said.
Tata Sinzo, eldest child of Datu Juvello, remembers her father as the go-to person for a piece of advice.
“He was our ‘rain’ in the middle of a drought,” Tata said during the tribute.
When Tata spoke of her father’s dedication to their fellow Lumad, there was a hint of grudge in her voice. Her father, a tribal chieftain, would always tell her, “You know that I cannot stay with you for a month because every hour counts. My mind and heart is always with them.”
Then, she said: “Though he was always with the people, he was a father that was always with us. I do not feel bad that we were not able to spend more time together when he was still alive.”
What can a daughter do? Tata had asked herself. And the only answer was to support the fight her father had taken.
“I, too, am consumed with rage over his killing, and overwhelmed with the support of the people who have come here to pay their last respect,” she said in tears.
The tribal chief from Kiwagan village was singled out from the throng of Lumads who were gathered by the military and the paramilitary group in the Kilometer 16 basketball court. He was asked what he was doing there, accused of pocketing revolutionary taxes and made to swear that these people would not join the NPA.
But he answered, “I do not control their hearts’ desires,” which angered the soldiers and the bandits. They beat up Sinzo and forced him to drop to the ground. Despite pleas of his fellow Lumad people not to kill him, the bandits shot him.
He was still breathing when the soldiers and the bandits left. But the Lumads could not bring him to the nearby hospitals as the sparkplugs of the motorcycles were stolen.
Karlgen Samarca, 26, son of the slain Alcadev executive director, said his friends were curious to whom he was sending his “I love you” text messages. But the messages were only meant for his father, Emerito.
He said his father was a busy man. They were lucky if they could spend at least a week with his father, who stays in the hinterland community of Han-ayan, in Diatagon village where Alcadev is. But whatever amount of time Samarca spent with them was “quality time.” Their parents were always very sweet to each other, sometimes, to the point that he and his three other siblings would find too mushy.
“We were never jealous of the time he would spend for others. We understand and we have accepted my father’s work,” Karlgen said.
Samarca was found dead in the guest house of the school he worked hard for. He was shot in the chest, and his throat was slit from ear to ear. Samarca had been with Alcadev since it was established in 2004, as a boarding school for Lumad children. From its founding, the school has been subjected to harassment and red-tagging by the military.
“Instead of thanking them, this facist government who failed to provide education to the Lumads had my father brutally and ruthlessly killed,” Karlgen said.
In tears, Karlgen said, “his blood will enrich the land of the Lumads to make it more productive. His blood will serve as spark of light for the people.”
In the morning of Sept. 8, Samarca’s family brought the slain educator’s remains to their hometown in Butuan City. The caskets of the two Lumad leaders were later joined by a smaller coffin – with the remains of a four-year-old Lumad girl who died of asthma in the evacuation site.
Later in the evening, the Musikang Bayan’s song, “Di pangkaraniwan” (Extraordinary), was played in the wake. The song paid tribute to “no ordinary” people who selflessly serve the country:
“Mabuhay kayong mga ‘di pangkaraniwan, pag-ibig ninyo ay walang hangganan
Mabuhay kayong lubos ang katapatan, Mabuhay kayo kailanman.”
(Long live the extraordinary, for your love is boundless, Long live you who are true-hearted, may you live forevermore.)