Identities of the abductors are still unknown
MANILA, Philippines (CORRECTED) – The military relieved from their posts 9 soldiers including a lieutenant over the supposed encounter near a mining site in Davao del Sur that claimed the lives of 3 civilians, two of them minors.
Lt Col Lyndon Paniza, spokesman of the Army's 10th Infantry Division, said a board of inquiry was formed after the incident on Thursday, October 18. Paniza said the investigation aims to determine if the soldiers violated the military's rules of engagement.
"This is also our assurance to the public," Paniza said. "We will see to it that someone will be held accountable for this. You cannot simply dismiss this as collateral damage. There were lapses and somebody has to answer for this."
Paniza was earlier quoted as saying that among those relieved were Lt Col Alex Bravo, the battalion commander, and Lt Dante Jimenez, the company commander.
But Army chief Lt Gen Emmanuel Bautista told Rappler that only Jimenez, the company commander, had been temporarily relieved from his post pending the results of the investigation.
Sought for clarification, 10th Army Division commander Brig Gen Ariel Bernardo told Rappler that Bravo was only recalled to headquarters on Friday, October 19, but that he was not among those immediately relieved since he was not directly involved in the operations.
The board of inquiry has been given a maximum of 48 hours to conclude their probe on the incident, according to Bernardo. "We need to know if the troops violated the rules of enagegement. Under our rules, we should minimize collateral damage," he explained.
Police investigators are also doing a separate probe on the incident, Bernardo added.
The victims’ relatives and anti-mining groups questioned the attack and criticized the Army for the death of the wife and children of Daguil Capion, a supposed tribal leader in the area. Capion is notorious for allegedly being an extortionist.
The military earlier said the incident was an encounter but relatives of the victims tagged it as a “massacre,” saying the soldiers killed the children without mercy.
The anti-mining group Alyansa Tigil Mina claimed soldiers raided the hut of Capion but Bravo said it was an encounter and armed men fired at approaching soldiers, triggering a firefight.
Killed were Capion's 27-year-old wife Juvy and their sons Pop, 13, and John, 8. The victims belonged to the B'laan tribe.
Even as the military probes the incident, Paniza said what is clear is that Capion is a "notorious bandit."
"What happened was the SMI (Xstrata) failed to heed his demand and he's using this to justify his actions," Paniza said.
Capion has arrest warrants allegedly for the death of policemen, soldiers and mining security personnel in the area.
Encroaching on ancestral land?
Dagil Capion is leading several armed B’laan tribesmen who are opposing the operation of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) in the hinterlands of Kiblawan, Davao del Sur. Kiblawan is among the towns covered by the drilling and exploration activities of SMI.
Capion has even admitted responsibility in at least two ambushes that killed at least two SMI security guards and 3 drilling contractors.
The military however said Capion is a bandit who resorted to armed robbery after he was denied work in the company.
Capion used to own a variety store which was doing well before he took up arms against SMI, which he claims is encroaching on their ancestral land.
SMI, a company controlled by Swiss-based Xstrata Plc, operates the Tampakan Copper and Gold Project, said to be one of the world’s largest untapped deposits of gold and copper.
Its mining development area however is covered by at least 5 ancestral domain claims, mostly belong to the B'laan tribe.
SMI also operates in Tampakan in South Cotabato, Malungon in Sarangani and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.
The 3 Catholic dioceses serving these areas are however opposed to the operations of SMI.
Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of the Diocese of Marbel and the prelates of Kidapawan and Digos have called on President Benigno Aquino III to stop the operation of SMI to avert the escalation of violence in the area. – with reports from Edwin Espejo/Rappler.com.