Bishop Antonio Nercua Ablon (in red polo) and other priests decry alleged harassment by government security forces and accuse them of “red-tagging” the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) and other churches in Mindanao during a press conference in Cagayan de Oro City on Friday, Oct 5, 2018. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO
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On September 1985, Lake Sebu, one of the most important watershed areas in the country, was proclaimed as a protected landscape. Lake Sebu is home to a number of indigenous peoples including the T’boli, known for their intricate weaving and exquisite brassware, who have lived in Lake Sebu for centuries.
Sadly, they are not protected as a people in the same way that the landscape of Lake Sebu is.
T’boli residents in Brgy. Luhib, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato face possible loss of land and property amidst threats to their safety, as suspects to the most recent burning of their mosque and homes are still at large. With subpoenas yet to be signed and served, preliminary investigations are still ongoing and the suspects are yet to answer to the victims’ formal complaint.
Junjun, Danny and Nognog Bañagados were sighted among the people present duting the Solidarity Caravan spearheaded by the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center, to help the community rebuild their mosque. The Bañagados enjoy this freedom despite being the primary suspects behind the burning incident.
In a dialogue held last May 28, days after the Solidarity Caravan, the barangay captain of the said area expressed disapproval over the activities held MinHRAC and its legal assistance team, saying that the residents should have approached him instead. He also noted how the names of the suspect were not mentioned the first time residents brought their case to him, and how the Bañagados were only implicated during MinHRAC’s intial interviews with residents held days after the incident.
However, when the T’boli first approached their barangay captain, the latter paid no heed to his indigenous constituents. This prompted the residents to present their case and seek assistance from MinHRAC. In addition, a PNP dispatch together with the Surallah Bureau of Fire Protection first set foot on Luhib, only after MinHRAC requested that they join their fact-finding investigation regarding the burning incident.
In recent correspondences with the barangay captain, it has become apparent that he has close ties with the Bañagados and favors the said family, an affinity assumed to be because of their shared roots as Ilonggo settlers.
Since the burning incident, threats to the safety of the residents have been constant, albeit indirect. Residents have disclosed to MinHRAC that they have been warned to stay in their homes for their own safety. One of the most disturbing threats reported was how one of the Bañagados was allegedly overheard to have said “papaulanan namin kayo ng bala.”
According to Sa’ang Kalan, one of the complainants against the Bañagados, has lived in Luhib for as long as he can remember and is the third generation descendant of his forefathers who lived in Brgy. Luhib before him. However, his peaceful settlement was interrupted when the Bañagados arrived and started claiming the land as their own.
Since then, he has lived with intimidation and harassment from the Bañagados, which eventually led to the shooting and death of his half-brother, Tinis. However, due to lack of corroborating evidence, no case has been filed to make the Bañagados accountable.
Plots of land surrounding the Luhib residents’ homes, including that of Kalan, have been cleared without their consent as if to prepare land for tilling. It has been two months since their mosque, along with their homes, has been burned down with impunity.
This is not the first time homes have been burned down in Luhib but, due to reasons yet to be disclosed to MinHRAC, this is the first time victims have filed a complaint. According to residents, this latest incident may be the fifth burning incident in recent memory.
On April 19, Sa’ang Kalan, one of the complainants, was awakened by the sound of crackling sound of burning wood and the smell of smoke only to discover that their mosque was being set on fire. He positively identifies Jun-jun Bañagado who was then holding a cigarette lighter while pouring an unknown accelerant from a bottle. Bañagado was seen with his brothers, Nognog and Danny, who both carried long firearms.
A land dispute is thought to be the cause of these incidents as the mosque and several adjacent homes are situated on a farm lot which the older Bañagado, Ernesto, claims as his. Flody, Kalan’s wife, has previously brought their land claim before the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP)but the commission has yet to act upon the said claim.
The three Bañagados who have been positively identified by Sa’ang Kalan are the sons of Ernesto.
Kalan lives in a house 2 to 3 meters away from the mosque, one that was partially burned during incident. Meanwhile, Kalan’s neighbor suffered a fate worse than his.
That same night, Nerissa Baluyan, whose partner partner was then working in a rice mill in Nurallah, South Cotabato, had no choice but to leave their house unattended as she looked after her sick mother. A little before midnight, she was awakened by someone shouting “Fire! Fire!” Rattled, she went out to check what the commotion was about, fearing the worst.
As she ran downhill to her burning home, she saw five men standing nearby. She then shouted “may tao!” after which four of the men ran away. It was then when she saw Jun-jun Bañagado cocking a gun in his hand. Again, Baluyan shouted “May tao! May tao!” which prompted Bañagado to flee the scene.
Baluyan’s home was burned to the ground. While Sa’ang Kalan promptly went to the police station the next morning, Baluyan chose to stay behind as she feared for her life.
In less than a week, the MinHRAC Quick Response Team went to the site of the incident in coordination with the Commission of Human Rights – Region XII, together with the Lake Sebu PNP and Surallah Bureau of Fire Protection to conduct a fact-finding investigation. ###
Note:Pictures of the Lake Sebu Solidarity Caravan can be seen at the MinHRAC facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.432045140148375.102002.150412344978324&type=3