DAVAO CITY, Philippines —- The military refuted claims made by the New People’s Army that Mandaya tribal chieftain Cupertino Banugan was killed in Davao Oriental province due to self-defense.
Banugan was “killed by members of a lawless armed group who forcibly entered his own abode on Dec. 30,” an army spokesman told Davao Today in a phone interview on Friday, Jan. 5.
“There was no firefight, no other armed forces in his house when chieftain Banugan was killed in his house as per investigation our (Philippine National Police) counterparts in Caraga, ” said Capt. Andrew Linao, spokesperson of the 701st Infantry Brigade.
Linao also said the armed men entered the vicinity of Banugan’s residence “with the intent to kill.”
“His house’s gate was destroyed. They entered the house and shot at him using a high-powered firearm. His door was destroyed, and police were able to retrieve grenade launchers inside,” Linao said.
In a press statement, New People’s Army Comval Davao East Coast Subregional Command owned up to the killing of Cupertino Banugan, his brother Ramon, and a relative Dodo Banugan.
NPA Spokesperson Roel Agustin II said they were acting on “self defense” when they served an order to disarm Banugan, whom they said is a leader of paramilitary group Mandaya Ancestral Defense Unit. Agustin said, it was Banugan who attacked them in Sitio Calatagan, Barangay Poblacion, Caraga town in Davao Oriental on the evening of January 30 last year.
“Cupertino used his title as the tribal chieftain to usurp 14,000 hectares of land owned by the Iligan, Bayon, Silat, Tibay, and Panin clans of Caraga. He systematically extorted land rent from the poor Mandaya peasants, Cupertino collected 10 percent from the gross sale of abaca and other products of the farmers, including Marijuana,” Agustin said.
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Linao denied any knowledge of Banugan’s activities as leader of MANADU, saying that they only knew Banugan as the tribal chieftain who held a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title over 13 hectares of land in Sitio Sangab, Brgy. Pichon in Caraga.
“We know he is a tribal chieftain, and they have formed organizations there already. But apart from that, there were no paramilitary forces when Banugan was killed. Only his family members were there,” Linao said.
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Linao, however, declined to pinpoint the identity of the armed group, saying that they are looking at all leads. Linao said a special investigation task group called “SITG Banugan” will be established to “look deeper” into the case.
“We cannot point at anyone yet because the investigation is still ongoing. We don’t want to be biased by pointing. We’re looking at many angles and the NPA is only one point of interest,” Linao said.
Linao said there may also be a case of “personal interest” at play. Linao said Banugan had made many enemies because of the resources found in the land included in his CADT.