DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A tribal Mandaya tribal chieftain and two other members of a paramilitary group were killed by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Caraga town, Davao Oriental province on Dec. 30 last week.
The NPA also reported that four of their guerrilla fighters were wounded in its gunfight with the Mandaya Ancestral Defense Unit (MANADU).
In a statement on Friday, NPA subregional spokesman Roel Agustin II said the NPAs were serving an order to disarm MANADU when they were attacked on the evening of December 30, 2016 in Sitio Calatagan, Barangay Poblacion, Caraga town in Davao Oriental.
“Acting on self-defense, the NPA fought and killed notorious warlord Cupertino Banugan, his brother Ramon and a relative, Dodo Banugan. The Red fighters also seized two high-powered rifles,” Agustin said.
The NPA alleged that Cupertino Banugan used his position as the tribal chieftain to usurp 14,000 hectares of land owned by five clans in Caraga. Banugan was an appointed tribal chieftain by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.
“He systematically extorted land rent from the poor Mandaya peasants,” Agusin said.
Agustin added that Cupertino collected 10 percent from the gross sale of abaca and other products of the farmers, including marijuana.
“He deducted 10 percent from any economic project established in his turf. He collected thousands from each of the 300 families who were victims of Typhoon Pablo,” Agustin said, adding that the tribal chief amassed at least P2 million yearly from his “extortion activities.”
In July last year, the military claimed that the NPA gave an ultimatum that they will attack a village in Barangay Pichon, Caraga if Banugan will not surrender.
Lt. Miguel Diorda of 67th Infantry Battalion in a previous interview told Davao Today that they were given a letter by the NPA to surrender Banugan.
The military launched operation to drive out the NPA in the area. The incident resulted in the displacement of 399 families.
Responsible in killings
The NPAs claimed that brothers Cupertino and Ramon Banugan were responsible for the murder of residents in the area.
“It is also common knowledge among the Mandaya communities of Caraga that Cupertino and Ramon Banugan were responsible for the murder of Romeo Mapando, Modesto Lagungan and Male Lagungan. They also tried to kill Julieto Bayon and Bitoy Usto,” Agustin said.
“Most of the victims were Caragan residents who were unjustly dispossessed of their lands and tried to oppose the Banugans’ despotic rule,” he said.
Agustin maintained that paramilitary forces such as the MANADU that go into guerrilla zones are “legitimate targets” of the NPA.
While the incident happened, Agustin said the NPA Comval Davao East Coast subregional command respects and obeys the guidelines of the Communist Party of the Philippines Central Committee with regard to the unilateral ceasefire declaration.
As of press time, government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III and the Philippine Army have yet to issue their statements.