Palace, Army: Killing of Agusan del Sur mayor ‘cowardly’ act

Camille Elemia
Palace, Army: Killing of Agusan del Sur mayor ‘cowardly’ act
Malacañang vows 'intensified operations' to bring perpetrators to justice

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Tuesday, October 20, condemned the brutal killing of Agusan del Sur Mayor Dario Otaza and his son Daryl by alleged members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Palace Communications Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma Jr. said Otaza, a Manobo, a Lumad, and a former NPA rebel himself, had been “an invaluable partner for peace in the region.” (READ: Abducted Agusan del Sur mayor found dead)

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this cowardly act. We hope that Mayor Otaza’s death unites the people of Agusan del Sur, the Manobos and the entire Lumad community, and every decent Filipino in working sincerely towards lasting, meaningful peace,” Coloma said in a statement on Tuesday, October 20.

Former Armed Forces chief Emmanuel Bautista – currently the Undersecretary of the Cabinet Cluster on Security, Justice, and Peace – also assured Otaza’s family of support in finding justice.

“Rest assured that our law enforcement personnel will exert every effort to bring the perpetrators of this grisly, cowardly crime to justice,” Bautista said.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Mel Sarmiento shared the government’s sentiment and also vowed justice.

“Matitiyak ng ating mga kababayan na gagawin ng pamahalaan ang lahat upang makamit ang katarungan para sa mga sa naulila ng mga biktima,” Sarmiento said.

(Our fellowmen can be assured that the government will exhaust all means possible to achieve justice for the victims’ family.)

Alexander Padilla, head of the government panel negotiating with the NPA, called Otaza a “reliable peace and development partner of the government for the welfare of his constituents.”

“We have always called for a meaningful process with the [NPA] that will bring the people closer to peace. Government continues to work on this table, but any violence on the ground makes the process more difficult than it is now,” Padilla said.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, meanwhile, called the murder “an atrocious act” and urged candidates for the 2016 elections to follow the rule of law, as he said the brutal killing may be election-related.

Intensified operations

The 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, for its part, said they would ensure no further violence ensues from the “unfortunate” incident.

“The AFP will intensify operations to go after the perpetrators of this cowardly attack and at the same time ensure that Lumad tribesmen loyal to Mayor Otaza will not conduct revenge killings as the attack could trigger a new wave of violence among Lumad factions. This is unfortunate because the AFP, PNP, and our LGUs have been working hard to de-escalate the situation,” Major General Oscar Lactao, commander of the 4th Infantry Division said. 

Lactao maintained the attack on Otaza is “clear and undeniable proof” of the NPA’s human rights atrocities in Lumad communities.

“We decry the terroristic act and brutality of the NPA bandits. The killing of Mayor Otaza and his son is brutal and blatant execution. This is another Lumad killing purposely to sow threat and violence among the peace-loving Lumads and to the Filipino people as a whole,” Lactao said.

As mayor and member of the Provincial Tribal Council in Agusan del Sur, Otaza liberated his town from NPA exploitation and manipulation. 

Bautista said Otaza was “a staunch partner of peace in Agusan del Sur.”

“A member of the Manobo indigenous group, he stood as the representative of the Lumad peoples, ensuring that IP communities were not left behind. He founded programs that allowed rebel returnees like himself to live dignified lives upon their return to mainstream society,” Bautista said. – with reports from Bobby Lagsa/Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a former multimedia reporter for Rappler. She covered media and disinformation, the Senate, the Office of the President, and politics.