City of Mati, Davao Oriental — Top local government officials in Davao Oriental including numerous leaders of the Mandaya indigenous people here are closing ranks to protest the brutal murder of a Mandaya tribal leader, Copertino Banugan, who fiercely fought the heavily armed Communist New People’s Army rebels who tried but failed to enter their hinterland village in the municipality of Caraga.
Police and military officials in Davao Oriental says the heavily armed rebel group stormed the residence of Banugan located in the town proper of Caraga on December 30, 2016, killing him, his brother Ramon and a relative named Benny. But the victims were able to put up a fight, seriously wounding several rebels, according to a report of the Davao Oriental Police Provincial Office.1
Davao Oriental have expressed alarm that the killing of Banugan might trigger more violence as the anti-NPA Mandaya natives may declare a “pangayao” or tribal war against the Communist rebels as a result of Banugan’s killing. “I am deeply saddened and I strongly condemn the ruthless killing of Davao Oriental’s most respected tribal leader, Datu Copertino Banugan, his brother Ramon and relative Benny Banugan. The tragic death of Datu Banugan is a huge loss and a big blow not only to the peace-loving, respectful, and honorable Mandaya people of Davao Oriental but for all peace-loving people in our country,” says Governor Dayanghirang in a press conference on Friday afternoon. He was flanked by top tribal leaders of the Mandaya, including top police and military officials in the province.
Mandaya tribal leaders in the province have also convened in the City of Mati on Friday to drum up calls for justice for their slain fellow tribal leader. “We will raise our voice in the coming days to call for justice for the brutal murder of our fellow Mandaya tribal leader. We will never stop until we are able to put to justice those who brutally killed Coper Banugan,” says an elderly Mandaya tribal leader. “It will be a deafening voice of protest,” he adds.
The tribal leaders have discussed on Friday their strategy against the “violence and intrusion” of the communist rebels. “They may have succeeded in killing our respected tribal leader, but we can never be cowed by these rebels. We will continue to fight against these rebels who only bring trouble and violence to our peaceful communities. With the help of the military and the police, we are confident we will be able to shoo them away effectively from our communities. We will never allow them to enter our ancestral domains. We do not welcome their violent culture,” says one Mandaya tribal leader who spoke at the press conference.
“On behalf of a grieving people, I stand with the people of Sangab in Caraga town who are deeply affected by this senseless and terrible attack on a leader who stood for his people’s rights for a peaceful and harmonious living,” says the governor. Banugan was the village chieftain of the upland community of Sangab in the town of Caraga. With his strong and popular leadership among the Mandaya natives, he was able to secure for his community in Sangab the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title from the national government, the first of such title given to the indigenous communities in Southern Mindanao. And with the successful issuance of CADT to his group, many more indigenous communities in the province have been inspired to press for their claims over their ancestral domains. Protected under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 or the IPRA law, the natives are entitled to the right to self-governance and self-determination, having their own justice system, conflict resolution mechanisms and peace-building processes through their own tribal councils.
“We want peace, that is all we want. Most of the time, we are caught in the crossfire between the warring government and rebel forces because the rebels would want to enter our communities. They should spare us. We, the Mandaya natives, abhors violence. So, please, spare our communities from violence. We are a peace-loving people,” says another tribal leader here.
“Rest assured, Datu Banugan’s legacy will be engraved in our province’s history. His life’s work devoted to reawakening the Mandaya culture and traditions that proved his love for his people will be sustained. And I believe that this will be made so through his successor as the provincial government will do its part to help the Sangab community in any way it can. His enemies may have succeeded in ending his truly meaningful and precious life, but it will never destroy the hearts and minds of the great Mandayan people,” says Governor Dayanghirang. He adds that the provincial government will continue to push for a more comprehensive program for pursuing peace. It will be done by fostering community dialogues, introducing community-owned projects, and creating communities of peace. The program, he says, aims to promote and preserve a peaceful and livable province where people will have basic services and are actively involved in planning development and exercising governance.
For their part, the military has vowed to secure the communities of the Mandaya natives here especially those who actively support the government’s anti-insurgency drive. “We will continue to secure them. We are always ready to secure them. We are beefing up our forces around Sangab area,” says Lt. Col. Michelle Anayron. Commanding officer of the Philippine Army’s 67th Infantry Battalion. By Ferdinand Zuasola/Photo by Eden Jhan Licayan