Davao Today

DAVAO CITY – – A lumad farmer survived a slay attempt in Baganga town of Davao Oriental on June 26 this year.

Julius Gonzales, 37, was going home with his wife to their village in Lambajon in Baganga when motorcycle-riding men, he recognized as Cafgu member, fired at him. The Cafgu or Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit is a paramilitary arm of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Gonzalez is a member of the Baganga Farmers Association (BFA), a group affiliated with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the progressive organization which registered the highest number of deaths among its members in the region, based on the monitoring of human rights group Karapatan.

Baganga, a town in Davao Oriental, saw heavy deployment of military troops following General Delfin Bangit’s call to the army to deliver the winning shots to the government insurgency campaign before its 2010 deadline.

The army chief, speaking on July 17 to the 10th Infantry Division- Eastern Mindanao Command (10th ID-EastMinCom), likened the stage of the government counter-insurgency campaign to the last two minutes in a basketball game where the players must be most enthusiastic, more focused and braver to shoot for three-point shots.

The 10th ID-EastMinCom is one of the two biggest military units in Mindanao especially commissioned to carry out anti-guerilla warfare. Its areas of responsibility cover territories known to be strongholds of the Communist guerillas such as Compostela Valley, Agusan del Sur, Davao Oriental and Davao del Norte.

I was lucky to have noticed the triggerman drew a gun as their motorcycle pulled alongside us. I heard three shots. They were so close, I could almost see the bullets whizzing by my head,” Gonzales told Davao Today.

Gonzales said he managed to get away when he suddenly put on the brakes in the middle of the motorcycle chase. I could still see them turning around so I dropped the motorcycle to the ground. My wife told me to run at once, so I did, Gonzales said.

His wife was not harmed.

Gonzales is among the few activists who survived killing attempts.

Eight activists have been killed since January this year, mostly in areas where the Philippine military’s war against the Communist NPA intensified.

Soldiers allegedly killed Gonzales’ relative in October last year. Since then, Gonzales also learned that he was already in the military’s list of suspected NPA supporters. He left his village and hid in the mountains but he returned sometime in March. He noticed though that he was often being followed around by motorcycle-riding men.

Gonzales tried to go back into hiding after surviving the June 26 slay try but Barangay Upper Mikit, the village where he took refuge last year, was already crawling with soldiers, he said.

He said remote villages in Baganga are already occupied by military troops these days.

The soldiers, he said, sleep and stay at the village halls and go around the houses of residents, pretending to conduct census. They even came to my house, asked where I was, and forced my wife give them my picture,” said Gonzales who left Baganga on July 17.

Karapatan Davao helped him file frustrated murder charges before the Commission on Human Rights XI on July 22.

Kelly Delgado, secretary general of Karapatan in Southern Mindanao, said Gonzales’s ordeal fits into the pattern of extrajudicial killings in the region.

Most of the victims were being tagged as supporters of the NPA before they were killed. Like what happened to Gonzales, they were put under intense surveillance and were killed in the thick of military operations, Delgado said.

Delgado cited the recent case of Arnel Corsencino killed by an army intelligence operative of the 72nd IB on June 30 this year.

Karapatan learned that military troops openly tagged Corsencino as an NPA supporter after he refused the military’s request to use his truck to transport wounded soldiers.

Delgado said Corsencino, a village councilor, was driving his truck along Feeder Road No. 2 at the Poblacion area of Sto. Tomas town in Davao del Norte.

Corsencino and his helper came down the truck to check on a busted tire when motorcycle-riding men shot them, killing Corsencino instantly, and wounding his companion.

A policeman caught up with the gunman and shot him to death. Corsencino’s gunman was later identified as Corporal Arnold Toriano, an intelligence operative of the 72nd IB.

Toriano died instantly but his companion shot back and killed the policeman.

The incident triggered a conflict between the military and the police after the soldiers allegedly forced their way into the police cordon to get the body of Toriano. (

For Delgado, the cases of Gonzales and Corsencino only proved the military’s hand in the spate of extrajudicial killings in the region.

Delgado fears that with General Bangit’s recent pronouncements, more atrocities will be committed against hapless civilians.

A recent statement from the 10th ID claimed that the command had registered remarkable gains particularly in destroying enemy armed groups and neutralizing guerrilla fronts.

But a statement by the Merardo Arce Command, Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command of the NPA, said not a single guerrilla front of the NPA in the region was dismantled.

The NPA statement also claimed the armed guerrilla group has sustained their political and military actions amid relentless AFP operations.

But the military operations left behind a trail of atrocities against civilians; displacements, harassments and killings, the NPA statement said.

Karapatan has counted 104 victims of extrajudicial killings in the region under President Gloria Arroyo’s watch. (Cheryll D. Fiel/

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