human rights in the Philippines

CPP, Lumad schools’ group doubt claim Booc slain in encounter

Grace Cantal-Albasin
CPP, Lumad schools’ group doubt claim Booc slain in encounter

PROTEST. In this file photo, Lumad groups led by the Save Our Schools Network stage a protest at the Commission on Human Rights office in Quezon CIty on Monday, February 15, 2021, to denounce the attack and arrest of 25 Lumad students, teachers, and elders of a Bakwit School at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

Marco Valbuena, Communist Party of the Philippines spokesman, asks the families of two Lumad school volunteer teachers to demand the release of the bodies for independent autopsies

BUKIDNON, Philippines – The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) denied that soldiers and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels clashed in New Bataan, Davao de Oro, on Thursday, February 24, raising questions about a military claim that Lumad school volunteer teacher Chad Booc and four other alleged guerrillas were killed in a series of encounters there.

Marco Valbuena, chief information officer of the CPP, said the NPA unit in the province reported there were no skirmishes in the area contrary to the military’s claim.

The military on Friday, February 25, announced that Booc and another Lumad school volunteer teacher, Gelejurain Ngujo II (not Jojarain Alce Nguho II as earlier reported), and three others were killed in three gun battles in New Bataan

The deaths, according to the military, were proof that Booc and Ngujo were communist rebels.

Ngujo was a volunteer teacher at the Community Technical College of Southern Mindanao in Barangay Lapu-lapu, Maco, Davao de Oro.

Booc, who was in his late 20s, gained prominence in February 2021 after authorities accused him of training Lumad children as “child warriors” in Cebu. He was arrested, charged, and detained but was subsequently released after a Cebu court dismissed their case in May last year.

“This is not the first time the military claimed to have killed people labeled as NPA rebels in gun battles. The AFP’s encounter claim is an outright lie. Indeed, this storyline has been repeatedly used in the past to cover up the military’s brazen murders of civilians or unarmed persons,” Valbuena said. 

He called on Booc’s and Ngujo’s families to demand the release of the bodies and seek independent autopsies.

“We are not even sure that they were in Davao de Oro,” Valbuena said.

The Save Our Schools Network (SOS), an organization that had Booc and Ngujo as members, said the activists cum volunteer teachers had been repeatedly red-tagged and threatened.

Before his death, Booc had received death threats for being vocal against what he called the militarization of Lumad communities and the closure of community schools for children of indigenous families in Mindanao, according to SOS.

Booc had taught mathematics at the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Development in Surigao del Sur, which the government closed down for allegedly being an NPA front.

“Chad was hunted for exercising his democratic rights and for fighting for the rights of the Lumad. This is the kind of culture of impunity and fascism that the Duterte administration wants to leave as its legacy,” read part of the SOS statement on Friday.

SOS said several residents of Andap, the village where the alleged rebels were killed, informed the group that there was no encounter in the barangay on Thursday contrary to the military’s claim.

Captain Mark Anthony Tito, the spokesperson of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, earlier said soldiers did not know one of those killed in the encounter was Booc until a former NPA rebel identified him to be among the five left dead by fleeing guerrillas in Purok 8, Barangay Andap, New Bataan town.

Soldiers, Tito said, exchanged gunfire with about 20 rebels, including Booc, under the NPA-Southern Mindanao Regional Committee.

He said soldiers found an M653 rifle, a caliber .45 pistol, a grenade, an anti-personnel landmine, and documents near the corpses.

Tito said the soldiers from the 1001st Infantry Brigade went to the hinterland village after they were informed by civilians that rebels were foraging for food there.

Booc, a University of the Philippines Computer Science graduate, had been an activist for years. 

In July 2017, he and seven other students were arrested for unfurling banners and shouting slogans to protest President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao during a plenary at the House of Representatives.

He was one of the petitioners against the Anti-Terror Law, questioning the measure before the Supreme Court in 2020, and was known for his social media posts against what he called the militarization of the Lumad communities in Mindanao. – Rappler.com

Grace Cantal-Albasin is a Mindanao-based journalist and awardee of Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.