Mindanao: Terror Continues in San Luis, Agusan del Sur

Apr. 17, 2007

Reference: Analyn Lumawag, Deputy Secretary-General, Karapatan Caraga
(0918) 7984512


San Luis, Agusan del Sur, has a long history of peoples struggle against the incursions of foreign and local investors in the lumad ancestral domain and rich agricultural areas that lowland farmers have cultivated for generations. Since the 1950s, during the logging boom in the region, it has been one of the most coveted territories for its rich forests and agricultural potential.

Yearly cycles of military operations have occurred to clear these target areas for the entry of industrial logging and agricultural plantations. These operations were conducted in the guise of anti-insurgency operations. However, it has become clear that the municipal, provincial and regional development plan for San Luis since the past decade to the present was the development of industrial tree plantation farming under the integrated forest management agreement (IFMA) scheme and palm oil plantation expansion. None of these endeavors are responsive to the needs of the lumad communities in these areas. Only the individual CADC holder like the local lumad aristocrats such as Mario Napongahan and Ben Hur Mansulonay, known lumad leaders who staged their own surrender in collusion with the military and cultivated their private armed lumad goons, stand to benefit from these special agreements with investors.

The Banwaon communities, who adhere to the indigenous culture of communal ownership of ancestral lands and compliance with indigenous laws, continued to struggle against the impositions of these local aristocrats that are being used by the military to suppress local dissent. The Religious of the Good Shepherd Tribal Filipino Ministry (RGS-TFM), who has been working with the Banwaon in San Luis since 1979, assisted these communities in their struggles. In the course of their joint effort for genuine recognition of the lumads comprehensive human rights, they have also been under siege.

As the conflict between corporate and peoples interests intensified, the coercive tactics of various military units assigned to San Luis, from the 36th IBPA in the mid-1990s to the present composite units of the 23rd, 29th and 36th IBPA, also intensified.

The spate of extrajudicial killings in the Caraga region was first documented in San Luis that started since November 2005. The cases were all related to the harassment of the local Banwaon organization, Tagdumahan, the RGS TFM program and their staff. To date, 11 cases of killings and frustrated killings have been documented in San Luis alone. There are others that remain undocumented because the victims and their families fear retribution if they speak out.

Aside from killings and frustrated killings, over 25 cases of harassment and grave threat have been documented.

Most of the perpetrators, despite being positively identified by the victims themselves or by reliable eyewitnesses, continue to commit abuses with impunity. They have been the subject of many dialogues and complaints with the AFP and Local Government Unit (LGU) since 1999 but no serious investigation nor arrest has been made. What is ironic is that the victims of the cases of frustrated killings have fled from their homes, their families and communities like fugitives while the perpetrators continue to live their daily lives as though it was business as usual in terrorized San Luis.

In December 2006, after a series of incidents of harassment and threats to the residents of Sitio Minlinao, Brgy. Balit, San Luis, Agusan del Sur, about 11 Banwaon families fled their homes to seek refuge in the barangay center, some 20 kilometers from their community. Leaving their houses and livelihood, they suffered losses in productivity while their childrens education was interrupted because the Urios Primary School in Minlinao had to be closed because of the threats made by the CAFGU and known armed henchmen of Mario Napongahan, CADC claimant in San Luis.

After two months in evacuation, the residents of Minlinao longed to go back to their community.

However, the residents of Minlinao as well as other Banwaon communities in Nakadayas, Tabon-tabon and Kimambukagyang were threatened with bombing by the Napongahan thugs after the closing of the RGS-run schools should they not voluntarily evacuate from their communities to give way to the establishment of detachments to guard his CADC.

In line with this, the communities sought negotiations with the provincial and municipal LGU for the safe and unconditional return of the evacuees and the protection of the threatened communities to preempt Napongahans threats.

On April 1, 2007 around 1:00 a.m. residents of Km. 4. Barangay Balit, San Luis, Agusan del Sur were awakened by the sound of two (2) motorcycle passing by the highway from the direction of Brgy. Policarpio, San Luis, Agusan del Sur followed by the sound of two (2) gunshots.

Witnesses saw Pvt. NOEL Arbie NAPONGAHA N of 29th IBPA, AKING MATIBULIG and DOYDOY AUTENTICO, members of the armed group of MARIO NAPONGAHAN, riding on one of the motorcycles. Said motorcycle stopped briefly when it reached the gate fronting the jome of Balit Brgy. Captain MARCELITO PRESCIOSO. Noel Napongahan was seen throwing something underhand towards the latters house. Shortly after that, resident of Km, 4 heard a very loud explosion, which shocked them.

Then they heard someone shouted that a grenade had exploded near the house of Brgy. Captain Marcelito Prescioso. The wall of the house of Demecia Badbaran fronting the house of the Brgy. Captain was riddled by sharpnel from the grenade blast.

After a few minutes, one motorcycle passed and slowed down in front of MARCELO MANLUNAS house and continued towards the direction of Brgy. Doa Flavia, San Luis, Agusan del Sur.

The next day an unexploded grenade was found in Marcelos next-door neighbors yard.

There is virtual Martial Law in San Luis today, its residents threatened and harassed.

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