A mockery of justice

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Southern Philippines – A suggestion that family members of a slain tribal leader and anti-mining advocate should, in consonance to tribal laws, absolve the killer of guilt by accepting a horse as peace offering has drawn flak.

A coalition of indigenous people’s organization call the suggestion “a mockery of customary law and tribal judicial system” while some 34 indigenous or lumad families from the village of Dao in San Fernando town, also in Bukidnon, went on hunger strike last month over the provincial government’s “insensitivity.”

“Ang husay dili simpleng pagbayad sa kabayo o kabaw para sa sala nga nabuhat,” stressed Datu Jomorito Goaynon, chairperson of Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization. (Our customary laws isn’t simply about paying with a horse or cattle.)

“Jimmy’s murder does not only affect or threaten his family; it affects the entire indigenous community of Dao. Jimmy was killed because of his stand on issues like large-scale mining, logging and other abuses of ancestral land,” Goaynon added in Bisaya.

Jimmy is the late Jimmy Liguyon of the Matigsalog-Manobo tribe of Bukidnon. He was the vocal vice chairman of Kaugalingong Sistema sa Igpasasindog to Lumadnong Ogpaan (Kasilo), a local federation of lumads, and a staunch anti “destructive mining” advocate.

He was also the  village chief of Barangay Dao and, in that capacity, he disallowed mining in his jurisdiction.

But a large portion of the barangay falls within the ancestral lands of the San Fernando Matigsalog Tribal Datus (Sanmatrida) whose leader, Datu Manayab Carillo Salusad, is allegedly pro-mining and, through the Sanmatrida Multipurpose Cooperative, has supposedly been enticing mining investors into their domain.

Last March 5, two rifle-carrying men came into Liguyon’s home in Dao. One entered and opened fire. Liguyon was hit thrice and died.

Liguyon’s brother, Emilio, witnessed the killing and identified the alleged assailant as Aldie “Butsoy” Salusad of the New Indigenous People’s Army for Reform (Nipar) and son of Ben “Nonong” Salusad, the self-appointed head of the “tribal arms” of Sanmatrida.

Butsoy, who remains at large, would later admit to the killing in an interview at a local radio station.

Liguyon’s killing, the continued existence of Nipar as an armed group, and the army’s failure to capture and charge Butsoy – taking custody instead of Datu Meyanda Minuna after he criticized the military over the way soldiers conducted themselves on tribal land – has angered some Dao residents.

Some 19 families left their homes in the village and set up camps outside the Bukidnon Provincial Capitol in protest last April. This forced Gov. Jose Ma. Zubiri Jr. to come out but to address them but, instead of moving to arrest the culprit, he instead asked them to avail of relocation.

It was an offer the protesters declined, saying they’d rather want to see Butsoy and all other suspects in killings similar to that of Liguyon placed under arrest.

In response, the province has reportedly asked tribal leaders in southern part of Bukidnon to intervene and negotiate with the protesters, leading people like Lito Gawilan, a board member of the Federation of the Matigsalog-Manobo Tribal Councils, to suggest that the matter be settled through the payment of a horse.

The suggestion, in turn, elicited raised eyebrows not only among those within the lumad community.

“While we respect the lumads’ cultural rights, customary laws and tribal justice, the culprits should be arrested, tried and incarcerated under the Philippine judicial system, regardless if they be lumad or not,” said Bishop Felixberto Calang, provisional bishop of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente’s Diocese of Malaybalay, in a separate interview.

He maintained that Liguyon was killed not as a result of some personal grudge between members of the tribe but because of his stance on key issues.

Liguyon’s killing brings to six the number of Bukidnon lumad leaders killed because of their stand against large-scale mining in ancestral land, said Goaynon in a separate forum held in Libertad, in the neighboring province of Misamis Oriental.

It’s a trend that has also “brazenly included men of the cloth”, according to Sr. Stella Matutina of the Order of St. Benedict, who spoke at the same forum.

She recalled the killings of Fr. Fausto Tentorio of the Pontificio Istituto Missioni Estere, who was killed in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato in Oct. 17 last year, and Dutch missionary Willem Geertman, who was killed outside his office in  San Telebastagan Village, San Fernando Pampanga last July 3. (By Cong B. Corrales for Pecojon.PH)