DAVAO CITY: A farmer and a village official were among the victims of an indiscriminate firing allegedly perpetrated by the military in a village in San Miguel town, Surigao del Sur on March 11.
Benjie dela Peña, 25, and Saldy Maca, 34, “were strafed by elements of the 2nd Special Forces of the Philippine Army,” said Kasalo in a statement on Tuesday, March 15.
Kasalo, a lumad organization that identified the victims, said Maca is a barangay councilor in Carromata, San Miguel, Surigao del Sur.
Josephine Pagalan, its spokesperson, said the incident happened at 10 in the morning, but their office received the report three hours later.
“Dungan sila nga gi-strafing sa lahi-lahi nila nga uma (They were fired at in their individual farms),” Pagalan told Davao Today in a phone interview. She said Dela Peña was about to cook sweet potatoes when he was hit.
Dela Peña was reportedly hit on his left thigh “as the bullet went through his bolo’s sheath that was tied at his waist.”
“He ran towards their purok, fearing death. He did not know that he was hit,” the group said.
Meanwhile, Maca was attending to his farm when he reportedly heard four shots towards his direction.
“When he looked at the elevated portion of his farm, he saw two uniformed soldiers from the 2nd Special Forces. Because their guns were still pointed at him, Saldy ran towards home to their community. It was sheer luck that he was not hit,” the group said.
Dela Peña was taken to the hospital by the residents using the pump boat owned by Maca.
Pagalan said they passed a river to reach Barangay Carromata.
‘Farmer, not NPA’
However, Pagalan said Dela Peña was interrogated in several checkpoints and was forced to admit that he was a member of the NPA who was hit during an encounter.
“Gilangan-langan pa sila bisag naa nay ambulansya. Sige pa sila’g gi-interrogate, gi-imbestiga ug si Benjie paangkonon nga NPA (even if there was an ambulance waiting for the victim, they were still held for interrogation and investigation and Benjie was forced to admit that he was an NPA),” she said.
Kasalo said Dela Peña was interrogated until he reached the hospital in San Miguel.
Not the first strafing incident
Kasalo reported that on January 22, a similar strafing incident happened to Pampias T. Ventura, 48 years old, married with three children.
Ventura is a farmer from Baroboan. Kasalo said the incident involved “the same elements of the 2nd Special Forces based in SNAS (Surigao del Sur National Agricultural School).”
The incident came three days after the military signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the provincial government and the Philippine National Police, which formally declared the province as “Conflict-Manageable and Ready for Further Development”.
In a report in interaksyon.com Lt. Gen. Rey Guerrero was quoted as saying: “By yearend, Surigao del Sur will be insurgency free. That’s our target, and I think it is possible that we can do it. Surigao del Sur is one area that needed that much attention, that’s why we exerted efforts in bringing in more troops. And we have seen the fruits of our efforts, in just a period of three months we have been able to significantly improve the peace and order situation, reduce New People’s Army (NPA) initiated violence. Their manpower and firearms as well as the numbers of affected barangays had been reduced.”
Guerrero gave the assessment after the ceremony for the MOA signing.
Pagalan, however, said the army should make clear “who are they running after”.
“Dili lang unta nila hilabtan ang mga sibilyan ug naa sa ilang mga umahan nga nag-uma (They should not run after civilians and farmers who till their lands),” she said.
Pagalan added that because of the incident 33 families with 172 individuals from the village evacuate to the barangay proper of Carromata on March 12.
Davao Today tried to contact the army for comment but are yet to issue their statement.