DAVAO CITY – The suspect in the killing of indigenous peoples’ leaders and a school director in a town in Surigao del Sur last September 1, was seen partying a day before New Year’s eve in a village near a military detachment.

In an interview with Davao Today on Tuesday, Tenia Garay, chairperson of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu),  a local IP group, said their relatives reported that one of the suspects, Loloy Tejero, was seen on December 30 partying along with unidentified soldiers in Sitio Neptune, Barangay Diatagon.

The other suspects identified were Loloy’s brother, Bobby, and Garito Layno.

Garay said Tejero was seen at the village center where an Army detachment was also located.

“There was a Cafgu on duty in the detachment. The main brigade camp, located in Barangay St. Christine is three-kilometers away,” said Garay.

She said they reported the incident the next day to the police, but the police told them that their information came “late”.

“Dapat daw presko nga information para masusi nila didto (They said the information should be fresh so they can verify it immediately in the area),” she said.

Garay is the former vice-chairperson of Mapasu and now acts as its chairperson after the organization’s head, Dionel Campos, was killed.

On September 1, the school director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), Emerito Samarca, and community leaders Campos and Datu Jovello Sinzo were killed by identified members of Magahat Bagani force in Kilometer 16, Sitio Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon, in Lianga town.

Garay, a Manobo, is among the more than 3,000 evacuees now staying at the Tandag City Provincial Sports Complex.

Army spokesperson Captain Alberto Caber, in a press conference Monday said they are appealing to the public to help them find the killers who are members of the Magahat paramilitary group.

Caber said they need the information from the media and the public as the criminals are in hiding.

“If wala po kaming matatangap na information eh mahirapan po kaming maghanap. Yong mga kriminal e talagang nagtatago po yan. At please help us by providing information para po mahuli natin yan sila (If we do not receive information, it will be hard for us to find them. Those criminals are really in hiding. And please help us by providing information so we can arrest them),” said Caber.

Caber said the support of the 4th Infantry Division to the law enforcement operations of the police in Caraga continues.

“Kami ay umaapela sa publiko to please provide us information please help us do our job, military and police para mahanap po natin sila (We are appealing to the public to please provide us information, please help us–military and police– do our job, so we can find the perpetrators),” he said.

But Garay said they do not believe the Army’s statements anymore.

“We see that their operation is not to run after the Magahat, but to protect mining interests in the area,” said Garay.

She cited Abacus Coal Exploration and Mining Corporation as among the mining interests protected by the Army.

In a statement last November 27, 2015, Caraga Watch, a local environmental advocate group based in Butuan City said “Abacus Coal Exploration and Mining Corporation have already brought their machinery to begin coal production operations in the Andap Valley Complex, while the communities resisting these companies are in evacuation.”

Garay said if the military is serious in arresting the suspects, they should have been arrested by now.

Michelle Campos, daughter of the late Campos, also said the Army’s statement “is a fabricated story to fool the public.”

“The truth is they don’t need help because the suspects are joining the Army in their operations and are also in Army detachments,” she said.

Campos said it is impossible for the Army not to be able to arrest only a few members of the Magahat.

She said even the police are mouthing the same statements.

“They said they need coordination with the people, and they ask for people’s help. But if they will really run after them, they can do so,” she said.

“Bisan karon dayon kaya ra gyud nilang dakpon kay naa ra na sila (They can even arrest them now if they want because the suspects are just around),” Campos added.

Campos said they hope there will be positive development on the case this year. (With a report from Ace R. Morandante/davaotoday.com)

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