DAVAO CITY – A nearly blind senior citizen and two minors were among those killed and reported to the media as New Peoples Army members who fought against the Army in Bukidnon province last week, a human rights group said.

Karapatan claimed that the five alleged members of the New People’s Army killed in a reported encounter with the government troops in Bukidnon province on August 18 were not rebels but members of a local indigenous farmers group.

Fr. Christopher Ablon of Karapatan Northern Mindanao Region in a text message to Davao Today said the five alleged NPAs were civilian Manobo residents.

“Patay gyud ang lima ka Manobo. Usa sa ilaha tigulang na, gani nabuta na sa katigulangon (and) two of them are minors (Five Manobo civilians were killed. One of them was a blind old man, while two of them were minors),” Ablon said.

The victims were identified by Karapatan as the owner of the house Mateo Samia, 70, his son Jobert, 20; grandchild Norman, 14 (Jobert’s son); and Mateo’s nephews, brothers Emer, 17 and Welmer Somina, 19.

Ablon said the victims were also members of the Manobo Farmers’ Association.

On August 19 the Eastern Mindanao Command said “(a)t least five NPA members of the North Central Mindanao Regional (Committee) were killed while two soldiers of the 3rd Special Forces Company, 1st Special Forces Battalion were wounded after the latter were fired upon in (Barangay Mendis),  Pangantucan, Bukidnon at 4:14 p.m., August 18, 2015.”

“The government troops recovered 1 AK-47 rifle; 19 back packs; food and medical supplies; and subversive documents,” said Captain Alberto Caber, chief of the Army’s Public Information Office.

1st Special Forces Battalion Commander Nasser Lidasan also said that they “responded to reports from the residents on the presence of armed elements in the area. While on their way to verify the said reports, they were fired upon by the NPA.”

“The soldiers retaliated with the volume of fires coming from the NPA side”, Lt. Col. Lidasan said.

Erio Inahan, president of the Manobo Farmers Association and also a relative of the victims, said on the day of the incident, he instructed his second cousins Welmer and Emer to go to Samia’s residence and inform Obe (Jobert),  of a change in their schedule in farming.

“Naa kami trabahoon nga farm iskedyul ni Obe Samia. Adtong tungura akong gisugo sila nga adtoan ninyo si Obe sa ilahang balay kay dili ta makatrabaho sa adlaw sa Biyernes kay naay mountain climber nga mosubida sa Kalatungan akoy mag-guide (We will be working in a farm with Obe Samia. On that day, I asked them to inform Obe because we will not be able to work on Friday since I will be working as a guide of a mountain climber who will go up to Mt. Kalatungan),” Inahan said.

He said the two went to Samia’s residence in the afternoon.

“At around 3:45 in the afternoon, we heard of an encounter between the NPA and the Army occurred,” Inahan said.

He said at around 5:00 pm the firings stopped.

Inahan cited the accounts told by Mateo’s 15 year-old son who survived the incident that Obe then told their father that they should leave to avoid getting hit by the encounter.

“Pagka alas 5:20, kapin kon kulang, niingon si Obe nga ‘modagan ta Pa kay basin apilon ta’.  Dayongan ka Pa kay dili man ka ka-klaro dayongan ka namo’. Niingon ang papa, ‘dili lang ta modagan, ayaw lang mo dagan kay dili man ta unsaon ana, kay wala man tay labot sa ilahang engkwentro’ (At around 5:20 in the afternoon, Obe told his father “let’s go now because they might get back at us. We will just carry you since you cannot see clearly.” But his father said “we will not run. Don’t worry because they will not hurt us, we are not included in their encounter”),” Inahan told Davao Today in a phone interview.

He said when the Army arrived, they asked the victims to get out of the house.

“Nimandar ang mga sundalo nga ‘panganaog kamong mga tao diha sa balay sa taas kay kamo man diay mga NPA man diay mo’ (The Army told them ‘get down here, you are NPAs),” Inahan said.

He added that the five young men were the first to go out of the house and the last was the old man since he had difficulty due to his ailment.

He said Mateo has just gotten near the coffee plant outside his home when the Army fired at him first.

Inahan said the old man was the first one who died. He said the Army then shot Welmer.

Inahan said that was the time Mateo’s 15-year-old son who survived the incident ran to escape.

“It must be God’s will that he survived so he could tell what happened to his family,” Inahan said.

Jomorito Goaynon, chairperson of Kalumbay, a regional organization of indigenous peoples in Northern Mindanao said they are currently taking custody of the survivor who is still traumatized by what happened.

Meanwhile, Caber said “two soldiers nearly died after they were fired upon, may nakuhang baril at mga kagamitan ng NPA sa mga nasawing bandido, that is a fact (the Army recovered guns and other valuables of the NPA from the bandits),” Caber told Davao Today in a text message.

But Inahan said they can not accept the accusations that their relatives were killed in an encounter.

“Madawat namo nga namatay ang akong paryente, ang dili namo madawat nga kami inosente, nga gicharge nilang NPA. Mao ra nang panawagan namo sa mga tao mga madre, pari ug mga katawhang nakadungog nga mo-saksi gyud sa tinuod nga nganong gipatay ang among paryente nga dili sila NPA (We can accept the fact that our relatives have died, but what we cannot accept is that we, who are innocent, are charged as NPAs. That’s our call for the public, the nuns, priests and all those who heard of the story to act as witnesses on why our relatives where killed when they are not NPAs),” he said.

He said the victims were registered voters and were beneficiaries of the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).

Inahan said they are calling on the Army officials to withdraw the accusation and admit that the victims were not NPAs.

Ablon said they are calling for an independent body to conduct a probe on the incident.

“Also, we urge the local governments to extend immediate humanitarian assistance to the families of the victims and safeguard the lone survivor,” he said. (davaotoday.com)

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