Peasant leader’s death in Agusan raises new fears

Sep. 26, 2013
Benjie Planos (second, left) was present during the dialogue with Loreto Mayor Dario Otaza (right) and Davao City Mayor Rody Duterte (second right) at Grand Men Seng Hotel last August 22 to work out the Manobo's safe return to their community. ( photo by Ace R. Morandante)

Benjie Planos (second, left) was present during the dialogue with Loreto Mayor Dario Otaza (right) and Davao City Mayor Rody Duterte (second right) at Grand Men Seng Hotel last August 22 to work out the Manobo’s safe return to their community. ( photo by Ace R. Morandante)

Davao Today

Davao City — The death of a peasant leader on September 13 has left the community of Barangay Kauswagan, a highway village of Loreto town, Agusan del Sur, in fear, scared of the possibility of another victim.

Peasant leader, Benjie Planos,  was hacked and shot dead in his farm, his two young children, the only witnesses to the crime, the killing that his colleagues from the Kahugpungan Alang sa Kalambuan sa Kauswagan (Kasaka) has linked to the previous military questioning about his work in the organization.

In his wake, Benjie’s body was wrapped with cloth, his arms were taped to put together the hacked parts, and the nose and ears were stitched back due to deep hacked wounds.

Villagers could not also ascertain the circumstances behind Planos’s death, with his children, a two-year old and three-year old, providing only blurry information.

Emily Planos, wife of Benjie, told a fact-finding mission, that her two children “are the only witness on the incident but they are only 2 and 3 years old and they cannot talk that much yet”.

“Katong gipangutana namo kung pila ang nipatay, ana sila gamay raman, ug katong gipangutana namog kinsa nagpanaog, ninaog ra sila sa motor (When we asked them [two sons] if how many killed their father, they said ‘few’; when we asked who ordered them to get down [from the motorcycle], they said by themselves)” Emily said, sobering as she recalled her talk with her sons.


Planos was among the evacuees of this barangay who went to Davao City on August 26 to avoid increasing military suspicion about their involvement in the killing of the barangay captain in late July, his death blamed on the New People’s Army.

The Army picked up four young men after tribal militiamen maintained previously by the slain barangay captain, pointed at them as involved in the killing. Two of them were released to their relatives after they attested to the residency in nearby barangays, while the two others were released to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The family of Benjie also said that the Army kept coming to their house to talk to him regarding his work with Kasaka.

They failed to talk with Benjie on their first attempt because he and other evacuees already went to Davao on August 22.

His older brother, Balong, belied suspicion that he was a high-ranking officer of NPA. “Mga dili maayo nga istorya, dili na sya tinuod (Those are nasty rumors, they are not true),” he said.

As the military increased its presence in the barangay, other villagers opted to evacuate to avoid getting suspected in the killing or getting caught in crossfire in an encounter with New People’s Army guerrillas.

The military has considered Kauswagan a hotbed of insurgency.

The human rights group, Karapatan, raised the cudgel for them and sought the intervention of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

In a press conference August 22, Loreto Mayor Dario Otaza and Lt. Gen. Rainier Cruz of the Eastern Mindanao Command agreed with the demand of Kasaka that there would be “no retaliatory action against the bakwits [evacuees] and the leaders of Kasaka” when they return home.

The evacuees stayed in Davao City for two weeks until after the commitment was made in that press conference.

Richell Planos, sister-in-law of Benjie said however, that when Benjie and the other evacuees came back, “the military still asked if Benjie was coming along and that they still wanted to talk to him”.

It was September 2 when the military finally was able to talk with Benjie.

Richell said Benjie talked with the military “at his own will” and it made the family feel at ease, “thinking that it would finally clear rumors of Benjie and he would be free from threats”.

“Abi namo mao na to, nakigstorya na gud sya  sa military (we thought it was good already because he already talked with the military) ” Richell said.


The family of Benjie and his village mates did not suspect that Friday the 13th of September would be his last.

Mercy Villarobia, a resident of Kauswagan for two years and who claimed to know Benjie, said “he is a very kind person, his death was very unacceptable, he was treated as a chicken, chopped”.

“Linaw ra man diri tong niadto, karon nag sunod sunod ning panghitabo. Hadlok kaayo kay pati maayong tawo patyon. Dili na ta makabalo na paggawas nimo ikaw na sunod (It is peaceful here back then, now that these incidents are happening, it’s very scary that even good people are targeted to be killed. We would never know that if you go outside you will be the next one),” Villarobia said.

“Sakit kaayo pagkakita namo kay mora sya’g baboy nga gitadtad. Dili mi makadawat na gi ing-ana sya (It hurts so much to see how he was treated. We couldn’t accept that it was done to him),” Richell said

Benjie’s father recalled that Benjie had only one fistfight with another person. “It was when he was just a kid when his brother got his slipper. After that he had lived peacefully.”

“He never drank nor gamble,” Balong said, adding that he never thought that “there is someone out there who deeply resented him that made Benjie’s death very horrible”.

The fact-finding mission that went there on September 15-18 observed that Benjie’s death had caused another round of fear, especially among the other leaders, and including members, of Kasaka.

They confided to the mission that the threat on Benjie “goes with the other leaders and members of Kasaka” and many of them would hardly grant interviews.

While some of them left the place again, the others preferred to stay, saying that “it was an old strategy to clear an area for vested interest”. (Earl O. Condeza/

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