ISULAN, Sultan Kudarat — The eight “lumad” (indigenous peoples) killed in the borders of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces on Sunday were not New People’s Army (NPA) members but land claimants, refuting claims that soldiers had clashed with communist rebels, a local leader of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said.
Efren Aksasato, spokesperson for NDFP-Far South Mindanao Region, said those killed in Barangay Ned in South Cotabato belonged to T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimants Organization, a group of lumad fighting for their ancestral lands.
But Lt. Col. Benjamin Leander, 27th Infantry Battalion chief, maintained that a group led by Manobo chieftain Datu Victor Danyan, who he claimed was a leader of a militia allied with the NPA, fired at soldiers.
The firefight also left two soldiers dead, Leander said. Fleeing rebels headed to Bagumbayan town, where they clashed with another group of soldiers under the 33rd IB.
“The NDFP-FSMR strongly condemns this heinous crime and the terrorist act perpetrated by [the military] against civilians,” Aksasato said in a statement.
Sitio Datal Bonglangon, the clash site, is a T’boli-Manobo community within a coffee plantation run by a private company.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the rights group Karapatan, said aside from Danyan, killed in the clash were Danyan’s son Victor Jr., Artemio Danyan, Pato Celardo, Samuel Angkoy, To Diamante, Bobot Lagase and Matend Bantal. Two others were wounded.
She said the Manobo farmers were on their way to their farms when they were gunned down.
She said lumad in the area had been complaining of harassment from soldiers and plantation guards.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, 33rd IB commander, said the slain lumad served as “yumil” (yunit militar), an NPA militia. —With reports from Frinston Lim and Eldie Aguirre
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