DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Disbelief and grief was followed by condemnation as relatives and friends question the military reports that two volunteer teachers for Lumad schools — Chad Booc and Gelejurain Ngujo II — were among the five “rebels” killed in an encounter in Barangay Andap, New Bataan, Davao de Oro.
The 10th Infantry Division in a statement released Friday February 25 claimed the two were killed in a “series of armed encounters” between government troops with the New People’s Army.
They identified Booc — a volunteer teacher and vocal defender of Lumad rights — as a recruiter for the NPAs.
Booc is a University of the Philippines Diliman cum laude who volunteered for the Alternative Learning Community for Agricultural Development (ALCADEV) in Surigao del Sur in 2016.
He was also one of the teachers arrested in Cebu on February 2021 accused of training “child warriors” but the case was dismissed in May.
Ngujo was a volunteer teacher at the Community Technical College of Southern Mindanao in Barangay Lapu-Lapu, Maco, Davao de Oro.
The Save our Schools (SOS) Network belied the claims of the military that the two were rebels and were killed in action.
“What the AFP claims as an “encounter” is in fact a massacre of civilians in the area. And in its attempt to justify these gruesome killings, the armed forces once again twist the truth to play into their narrative as they have done many times before,” the group said in a statement posted in their Facebook page.
The group added that reports from residents in Barangay Andap said no encounter between the military and the NPA happened on that day.
SOS also lambasted the 1001st Infantry Brigade for “parading” the bodies and took photographs as “war trophies”, which they said is “disrespect and non-adherence to the CARHRIL (Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law)”.
The Sandugo Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination called on the Armed Forces of the Philippines “to treat the remains of their victims with respect”, and turn them over to their families.
Communist Party of the Philippines spokesperson Marco Valbuena also belies the military claims on his Twitter account. He said NPA units confirmed no armed clashes took place in the area.
Valbuena also called for a full probe on the circumstance of the killing of the Booc, Ngujo and the three persons he called activists.
Dedicated teacher and activist
Booc’s sister Jennah Ramirez, wrote on her Facebook account about her brother, describing him as a dedicated activist who after graduating Cum Laude in the University of the Philippines-Diliman chose to be with the indigenous people in Mindanao.
“Chad Booc has fought so hard alongside the people who have been marginalized for as long as this country could remember. He could have been your tech bro. He graduated CUM LAUDE in Computer Science in the Philippines’ top university (UP-Diliman) Instead, he dedicated his life in service of the Lumad people,” she said.
Jennah said it pained her how the military painted her brother as an NPA.
“It is unthinkable to think of him just gone. Napakasahol.(This is very bad) My brother was an activist— never a (expletive) NPA,” she said.
Journalist and environmentalist Mark Saludes, who had interviewed Booc for a story, posted on his Facebook account his tribute.
“Chad Booc was not just a character or a case study in some of my stories about the plight of the Indigenous Peoples in the country. He was a champion of indigenous people’s rights.
Ngujo was also remembered by Mie Alegre, his Liceo de Davao Tagum classmate and co-teacher, as a friendly and musically gifted person.
“I met jurain last 2014, 4 years in college mi nag uban knowing him walay nakalalis/nakaaway sa dorm, grabe ka-approachable, friendly, hilig ug music. 2018- nagkuyog pud mi sa bakwit manila still close sya sa bata ug mga kauban nga teacher. Love gyud niya ang community immersion. Andam mutabang bisag kay kinsa, very friendly gyud sya,” Alegre recalled.
(We were together for four years in college, knowing him, he did not have quarrels or fights with anyone in the dorm. He was very approachable, friendly, a lover of music. 2018, we evacuated to Manila and he was still close to the [Lumad] children and co-teachers. He loved the community immersion. He was always ready to help anyone, he was a very friendly person.)
Various organizations who support the Lumad schools gave their statements calling for justice for Booc and Ngujo.
The SOS Network said the military’s “encounter” narrative has been used to cover up the killings of Lumad and its supporters.
They recalled the death of Salugpongan student Obello Bay-ao and the massacre of Tbolis defending their ancestral lands in Lake Sebu where the military accused the victims as NPA members.
“A storyline sold by the state forces that were not so different from the murder of another minor in 2018 who was suspected to be a part of the NPA while he was heading out to school. And once again, the same narrative that is continually being proliferated now by the AFP when they brutally killed Chad and Jurain,” the SOS said in their statement.
The group salutes Booc for his fearless advocacy, which has made him a target of threats.
“Chad has faced numerous death threats coming from the state forces themselves over the years for merely speaking out on the rampant militarization in the Lumad’s ancestral lands and the closure of their schools. Like his students and the Lumad communities where he and Jurain teach, Chad is hunted for exercising his democratic rights and for fighting for the rights of the Lumad. This is the kind of culture of impunity and fascism that the Duterte administration wants to leave as its legacy,” the group said.
“Together with the victims’ families, the Save Our Schools Network demands justice and a thorough investigation for Chad, for Jurain, and the other victims of the massacre. We enjoin our fellow advocates to call to address the root causes of armed conflict and resume peace talks!” — with report from Jigger Jerusalem (davaotoday.com)