Survivors of Capion killings ‘hijacked’

Edwin G. Espejo
Witnesses to the killing of a B'laan family were reportedly misled into going to an area controlled by the military and a mining company

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – Survivors of the Capion killings, including two  children, are now caught in a tug-of-war between government authorities and human rights workers.

Four-year-old Becky Capion (earlier named in news reports as Vicky), who was hurt in a volley of gun fire that killed her mother and two siblings, and 11-year-old Ressa Piang were on board a “habal-habal” (passenger motorcycle) along with grandmother Diya Capion and aunts Sabelin and Rosita when they were flagged down by a certain Josephine Malid in Barangay Danlag in Tampakan, South Cotabato, on Monday, October 22.

Becky Capion and Piang are the lone witnesses to the October 18 killing in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur, of Juvy Capion and young sons Jordan and John Mark.

Juvy was the wife of fugitive B’laan tribal leader Daguil Capion, whom the police and the military have branded as a “bandit.” The commander of the raid, Lt Dante Jimenez, and at least 8 of his men have been relieved from their posts pending a probe on the incident.

Members of the B’laan tribe called it a “massacre,” while the Army initially said it was an “encounter.”

According to Rene Pamplona, an employee of the diocese’s Social Action Center (SAC), the witnesses were reportedly prevented from going to the residence of Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez in Marbel, South Cotabato, and were instead brought to the Kiblawan social welfare office.

Malid, who works for the SMI-supported Tribal Foundation, allegedly led the Capions to a white pick-up truck allegedly owned by the mining firm and initially brought them to the Tampakan municipal social welfare office.  But they were turned away as there was no prior coordination with the social welfare authorities there, Pamplona said.

At that point, Lt Joel Wayagwag allegedly told Malid to instead bring the Capions to Kiblawan in Davao del Sur for medical attention, according to Pamplona. Wayagwag is the head of the Philippine Army’s Task Force Kitaco, a special unit formed to secure the tri-boundary towns of Kiblawan in Davao del Sur, Tampakan in South Cotabato and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.

The area is also site of ongoing exploration activities and future site of mining operations of Sagittarius Mines Inc (SMI).    

We called up two SMI supervisors for their side, but they did not answer our calls.

A press statement released by the Army’s 10th infantry division however indicated that they have custody of Becky Capion.  Maj. Jacob Thaddeus Obligado, commander of 10th Civil Military Operations Battalion of 10th Infantry Division, said that the Army “continued in providing assistance to the only survivor of the incident, Daguil Capion’s daughter, seven-year-old [Vicky] Becky.”

Fugitive tribal leader

Lt Col Alexis Noel Bravo, commander of the 27th infantry battalion that had supervision of the troops, claimed that the fugitive tribal leader fired at the soldiers as they were approaching his house to “serve a warrant of arrest” against him.

In a phone interview with the Catholic-run dxCP in General Santos City, however, Capion denied he was in the house when the soldiers attacked it with heavy fire with his wife and children still sleeping inside.

Capion was said to be visiting his wife when the military received reports of his presence.

Capion however said he was less than 200 meters away when the military strafed his house.

Capion is leading a band of fully armed Blaan tribesmen, which included brothers Batas and Kitara, that is waging a pangayao (tribal war) against SMI, which he claimed has been encroaching on their ancestral domain.

Joining the NPA

The fugitive tribal leader has reportedly joined the communist-led New People’s Army after conducting a series of ambushes against SMI personnel.

At least 3 drill contractors of SMI and two of its security personnel have already been killed by Capion and his men.

Bishop Gutierrez said a team from the AFP’s Board of Inquiry lead by Col Fidel Pumihik had assured him that a thorough investigation is now being conducted to determine the responsibility of the military unit that figured in the killings.

“I am following the case very, very, very seriously,” Bishop Gutierrez told reporters in his residence.

Gutierrez said though that he believes there was no encounter and that the Capions were massacred.

(Marbel Diocese Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez on the B’laan killings. Video by Edwin Espejo)

In a statement released by the Army, Pumihik said: “The army is one with the community in the pursuit of truth, in the objective that justice should be served. The 10th ID welcomes all interested investigating bodies to conduct independent investigation.”

Fr. Joy Peliño, SAC director who led the first fact-finding team to reach the area the following day, said all indications point to the indiscriminate strafing of the civilians’ house.

“(It incident was a serious) lapse of judgment and blunder on the part of the military,” Fr. Peliño said.

Relatives of Daguil Capion also claimed it was a massacre.

In a report, Erita Capion-Dialang, Juvy’s sister-in-law, said in a press conference that when soldiers arrived in Fayalob, Sitio Datal-Alyong of Kimlawis, Jan-Jan (John) and his mother were still sleeping inside their hut while Jordan was having coffee.

Dialang said that when her sister, Melanie, arrived at the hut to try to save Vicky and Riza, she heard the military said: “Tiwasi na lang ng mga bata” (Kill the other children too), referring to Juvy’s daughters.

Melanie, however, pleaded to spare the children, she added.   

Meanwhile, the rebel National Democratic Front in Far South Mindanao Region (NDF-FSMR) said that Daguil has joined the rebel group after he was declared “most wanted” by authorities.

In a statement, the NDF-FSMR said Daguil has “embraced the ‘ideals of the revolutionary movement.” –

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