Thick jungle foliage prevented soldiers from seeing there was a minor among suspected communist rebels they fought with in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, an Army general said on Thursday, June 17.
Brigadier General Allan Hambala, commander of the Army’s 401st Infantry Brigade, asserted this as he brushed aside allegations that soldiers intentionally killed a minor who was with two adults in Sitio New Decoy, Barangay Diatagon in Lianga town on June 15.
Hambala said soldiers saw an armed man firing a gun at them, prompting the 12-man Special Forces team to retaliate.
“Once the firing started, it was all go. The terrain was covered with thick jungle foliage,” he said.
Hambala said the encounter at a jungle trail beside an old logging road in Sitio New Decoy lasted for 10 minutes.
He said it was only when the soldiers searched the area that they found the dead minor.
Hambala said the bodies were brought down to Diatagon, Lianga town were they were autopsied by a Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) police group.
Sabokahan IP women, a grassroots women’s organization based in Surigao del Sur, said the soldiers allegedly raped the minor and the other female farmer before they were killed.
Bishop Raul Dael of Tandag, Surigao del Sur will lead an investigation and fact-finding mission on the incident this weekend.
The military identified the adults killed as Lenie Perez Rivas, 38; and Willy Salinas Rodriguez, 20, all members of the Manobo tribe.
The two, according to the military, were members of the grassroots organization Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU), and were New People’s Army (NPA) rebels belonging to the communist North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee.
Hambala withheld the name of the third fatality who was a minor, a sibling of Rivas.
Sabokahan IP women and human rights watchdog Karapatan said the minor – named as Angel Rivas by rights group Karapatan – was a 12-year-old pupil at the Lumad school Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS).
The Sabokahan IP women alleged that the three fatalities were lumad farmers who were out harvesting abaca when they were allegedly “killed and raped” by the soldiers.
Hambala welcomed the fact-finding mission headed by Bishop Dael so that they can answer the allegations hurled against the military.
He asserted that the June 15 encounter was “legitimate” and that the soldiers fought with New People’s Army rebels, and not farmers as alleged.
Hambala said the soldiers found an AK-47 rifle, two .45 caliber pistols, backpacks, ammunition, and two anti-personnel mines with detonating cord and electrical wire attached to a switch around the three bodies.
“We welcome the fact finding mission so we can clear our name against these allegations,” Hambala said.
A day before the Surigao del Sur incident, Hambala said, the Special Forces team figured in another encounter with 20 NPA rebels in Sitio Tibog, Mabuhay, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur.
Hambala said the soldiers captured a 15-year-old Manobo minor who told them of the presence of another rebel group in nearby Sitio New Decoy. – Rappler.com