MANILA, Philippines – Armed Forces chief General Hernando Iriberri on Tuesday, September 8, denied any military involvement in the death of Lumad leaders in his home province Surigao del Sur, amid growing public outcry grows over the spate of violence committed against indigenous peoples in various parts of Mindanao.
Charges were filed on Monday against 3 members of the Magahat tribe over the deaths of a school head who has hogtied and stabbed, and two Lumad leaders who were strafed with bullets in front of villagers.
Rights group Karapatan said the suspects are members of the Magahat Bagani Force paramilitary group that is working with the 36th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. Iriberri denied this. (READ: Gov't activates task force vs private armies in Mindanao)
"Charges have been filed yesterday against 3 suspects....These 3 are Bobby Tejero, Loloy Tejero, and Garilo Laylo. They are not members of the CAFGU (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit)," Iriberri said.
Leftist solons grilled military generals over the deaths of the Lumads during the budget hearing of the Department of National Defense at the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The military presented tribal leader Nestor Appas, whose testimony the leftists tried to block, but they lost in the hand vote. Appas said the tribe exercises "self-governance," and the Bagani is a tribal unit that is an "ancestral protector" or "cultural guard."
Leftist solons cite AFP 'role' in deaths
But the leftist groups cited testimonies and even showed an old military magazine to establish the alleged links.
In a tweet to Rappler, Gabriela Women's party list said the Bagani members are always seen inside military camps.
ACT Teachers party-list Representative Antonio Tinio also showed an undated copy of a publication of Task Force Gantangan showing President Gloria Arroyo on the cover, to show ties between the military and the Bagani Force.
"There are more or less 50 Tribal Assemblies (chapters) established all over Mindanao; all of which have engaged in a peace pact with the respective AFP units in their communities, and have agreed to unite and establish the Bagani Defense Force," Tinio read from the magazine.
Iriberri acknowledged the military used to publish Gantangan, but said it has already been dissolved.