In commemoration of the National Day of the Disappeared on November 2, progressive organizations call for the surfacing of all victims of enforced disappearances, from the Marcos to the present Aquino regime. This year’s list includes the name of John Calaba, a Manobo activist who has been the latest victim of enforced disappearance under the Aquino government.
Sancio Calaba, the brother of the disappeared Manobo activist, said that John was very firm in his stance against the activities of the David M. Consunji, Inc. (DMCI), which has logging and mining operations in Sultan Kudarat. John was able to convince the whole community to go against the company’s logging activities because it will take the ancestral lands that they use for their livelihood and survival. He was also able to establish linkages in Davao City to help their community with their issues.
Sancio recalls that John was actively befriended by the company guards of DMCI.
On the morning of April 30, John was invited by the company guards to eat roasted chicken at the outpost. Sancio said that while they were working at their farmlands, they heard gunshots coming from the guard outpost. The gunshots lasted for about half an hour.
Datu Meliton Blag, leader of the Dulangan Manobo tribe, said that DMCI’s company guards were members of the paramilitary group SCAA (Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary), which was organized by the Army’s 38th Infantry Battalion. The Manobo leader shared that their community in Sitio Elem in Salangsang, Lebak, Sultan Kudarat is highly militarized. There is a CAFGU detachment located 2 kilometers away from their community while some 4 kilometers further away is the detachment of the 38th IB.
Sancio immediately ran toward the outpost because he feared that his brother’s life might be in danger. He was not able to get close enough because they were warned by the company guards to stay away or they will get hurt. Datu Meliton shares that the company guards were shouting “Ayaw mog duol diri kay nay kalaban! (Stay away because there are enemies here!)” Sancio and other community members were about 40 meters away from the outpost when the shooting ended, they saw someone being wrapped in canvas and being loaded onto a Canter truck numbered 76, which was used by the company.
John has not returned to their home since.
‘John was a good man’
Sancio shared that his brother has always been a good person in the family and the community. He said that when he got married, John gave him a small part of the farmland given to them by their father. This was John’s way to help out his brother. Being the eldest among a family of eight siblings, John helped in providing for the family.
Datu Meliton said that John was a good man. Aside from his firm stance in defending their ancestral lands against the destruction brought by big companies, John always had the initiative come up with plans to recover the community’s livelihood such as the coffee farm.
Because of his good heart and initiative, the Dulangan Manobo community of Sitio Elem looked to John as their leader. He served as the spokesperson of the Kisasabanay Dulangan Manobo (Kiduma), the indigenous people’s organization of the community.
Sancio, Datu Meliton and the rest of the lumad communities from Mindanao have come to Metro Manila in the hope that their issues will be brought into the limelight and on a national scope.
“Ang akon lang, gusto ko lang ipauli siya sa balay kay di pa man na patay […] Buhi pa na siya, buhi pa si John pero ibalik lang. Para wa nay sakit ang ulo ang ginikanan ni John, si tatay, si nanay ug kaming mga manghod niya para di na mi magpangita” (“I wish they would send him home because he is not yet dead […] We know he’s still alive. They should return him home so that the whole family wouldn’t be worried about finding him.”)
Krista Iris V. Melgarejo is the former Student Regent of the University of the Philippines System. She is currently a Science Research Specialist I at the Versatile Instrumentation System for Science Education & Research, National Institute of Physics, University of the Philippines – Diliman