“Kahit ilang beses kaming magbakwit, di kami titigil (No matter how many times we are displaced, we will not stop).”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – The son of an indigenous leader killed during the Arroyo administration decried that he and his brothers are now the ones being targeted by government soldiers deployed in their community in Rizal province.
Arnel delos Santos, 28, son of slain Dumagat leader Nicanor “Tatay Kanor” delos Santos said he and his two brothers, Marvin and Niko had to leave their homes in sitio (subvillage) Apia, Calawis village, Antipolo City, after non-stop visits by soldiers. The soldiers were asking them to “surrender,” Delos Santos told Bulatlat, in an interview.
Delos Santos, who is secretary general of Bigkis at Lakas ng Katutubo sa Timog Katagalugan (Balatik), said at least 40 other indigenous residents were harassed by soldiers of the 80th infantry battalion since May.
His father Nicanor was killed on Dec. 8, 2001, by soldiers under Task Force Panther, who had accosted him and several companions at a checkpoint. Nicanor tried to run from the soldiers, who shot him dead. He was the secretary general of Makabayang Samahan ng Katutubong Dumagat (Maskada) and vice chairman of Balatik.
“My father was killed in the first year of the Arroyo regime in 2001, and his death was not given justice. And now, we who are his sons are being treated the same way, because we chose to continue his work to defend our ancestral land,” Delos Santos said in Filipino.
Delos Santos, his brothers and their respective wives and children were at a forum for the World Indigenous Peoples Day held in Manila on Aug. 8. The whole family of 10 – six adults and four small children – have left their community and are now staying in a sanctuary kept by a religious group.
The family left their homes out of fear that the military presence will be followed with summary executions, such as during the implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya under the Arroyo administration. Under Arroyo, 151 indigenous peoples were killed, out of the 1,206 victims of extrajudicial killings.
Soldiers go from house to house, conducting ‘census’
On May 1, Delos Santos and his brothers received a letter, signed by a certain “Robert” who claimed to write in behalf of the village council, and ordered them to appear at the Army detachment of the 80th infantry battalion in sitio Paglitaw the next day.
Aware of countless cases of victims who were interrogated and tortured in Army detachments, Delos Santos and his brothers did not show up. On May 17, after two weeks, 12 soldiers of the 80th IB led by 1st Lt. Alfonso Alcantara went to sitio Apia and encamped in the school, where they stayed the rest of the month.
At first the soldiers participated in the bayanihan in the community, and helped put up the basketball court and a water tank. Then they sponsored basketball games. “They took pictures of the people who were playing and watching,” Delos Santos said.
Afterwards, the soldiers began looking for Delos Santos and his brothers, and said that they must surrender themselves. “Magpalinis raw ng pangalan (They said we should have our names cleared),” he told Bulatlat.
“They did not say what our cases were. We are not criminals who need to surrender,” Delos Santos said. On May 29, he left the community and hid in the forest for six days. He eventually reached Tanay, Rizal and sought sanctuary from human rights groups.
Back in sitio Apia, soldiers went back and forth to the households, in the community. “Census, umaga, tanghali, hapon. Lalo sa pamilya ko, walang tigil pagtatanong (They conducted census, morning, noon, afternoon. Specially on my family, it was non-stop questioning),” Delos Santos said, adding that soldiers took turns going to the house.
In July, Delos Santos was finally reunited with his wife and children and the rest of the family, when they finally left Apia, and joined him in a sanctuary.
Delos Santos echoes the call of other indigenous groups to pull out soldiers in communities. He compared the military activities to the current pattern in anti-drugs police operations.
“Wala naman dung drugs, wala namang adik, dahil hindi kailanman alam ng katutubong gumamit ng drugs (There are no drugs there, no addicts, because indigenous people do not use drugs),” he said.
Reason for military presence
Delos Santos told Bulatlat that his group has criticized the encroachment into ancestral lands of the ongoing construction of the 500 megawatt Wawa pump storage hydropower project of the Olympia Violago Water and Power Inc., located between Antipolo city and Rodriguez town (formerly Montalban) in Rizal.
His Dumagat group Balatik is also in the forefront of opposing the Marcos-era Laiban dam, targeted to submerge 28,000 hectares of land in Rizal and Quezon provinces.
These projects were supposed to augment the growing need for water supply for Metro Manila. But Delos Santos lamented that indigenous groups were disregarded, even as they were to lose their ancestral homes and lands.
“All of us need development. But they should also consider what kind of development the indigenous peoples need. This (Violago hydropower project) did not go through the proper process,” he said.
Delos Santos also decried what he perceived as a collaboration between officials of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the project proponent, in the form of a feeding program.
“You owe this to Violago hydropower,” Delos Santos quoted the NCIP official from Tanay, referring to the feeding program, which was supposed to last for three months. When the residents heard this, they protested and said they are opposed to the project. The NCIP halted the feeding program after only a month.
Delos Santos recalled that after his father was killed in 2001, their family became internal refugees, and returned only after a year. Faced with the same situation, he remains unfazed.