Dialogue pays off, San Fernando evacuees go home

MALAYBALAY CITY – Four months and 24 days
since they fled for safety, about 30 families from Brgy Dao, San
Fernando, Bukidnon have returned home Wednesday after a dialogue
reached agreement that tribal councils back home will assure their
safety.

About 30 families or a total of 135 individuals climbed up four
trucks, two each from the municipality of San Fernando and from the
provincial government, at around 1:30 pm Wednesday ending months of
stay in the Capitol grounds to exert pressure on the government for
the arrest of Aldy “Butchoy” Salusad.

Salusad is the main suspect in the killing of Dao, San Fernando
village chief Jimmy Liguyon on March 5.

Leah Tumbalang, spokesperson of the evacuees told Bukidnon News via
telephone this does not mean, however, that they have already given up
in their search for justice for Liguyon’s death. She admitted that the
Liguyon family has considered the welfare of the children, who were
affected by their evacuation to
Malaybalay City since March 14.

Aside from the protection of the tribal councils,  Provo Antipasado,
provincial administrator, said via telephone that the Armed Forces of
the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and the local
government of San Fernando has also assured the residents of
their safety in Dao.

In a dialogue with officials led by provincial administrator Provo
Antipasado Jr. and provincial police director Supt. Rustom Duran,
residents of Barangay Dao who evacuated after the killing said they
would not be safe in their place if the suspects were not arrested.

Since March 14, at least 43 families from Dao have encamped at the
provincial capitol
grounds to escape alleged harassment by Salusad, who is also the
leader of the New Indigenous People’s Army Reform. Ten of those
families have returned home last week.

“There were offered alternatives but they won’t accept it. That’s
their decision. They have their own reasons for that. But the local
government units, the police, the cultural community will continue
doing what can be done to address the problem,” Antipasado told
reporters after the dialogue, the third to be held by the capitol to
convince the evacuees to return.

Backed by the Kaugalingong Sistema Igpasasindog te Lumadnong Ugpaan
(Kasilo), the Liguyons, as in the previous dialogues, rejected the
proposal that they will return to Dao while waiting for the arrest of
Salusad.

Sharon Liguyon, the village chief’s widow, said her only request is
for the arrest of Salusad.

“Is our security assured if we return?” son Randy Liguyon said, citing
reports that Salusad was seen roaming in the village contrary to
police reports it was difficult to pursue him.

Duran said they had conducted three operations against the suspect but
failed to arrest him. “We need a little understanding. It is not easy
to arrest him as they
are armed,” he said, “we also need to protect ourselves.”

Insp. Gregorio Agregado also said, “The terrain is too difficult. We
can’t reach it even on horseback. [If] the police will just start to
walk, Salusad will be out of sight already.” He said the police needed
the help of the community to arrest Salusad.

He also added that Benjamin “Nonong” Salusad, who attended the
dialogue, plays a key role as the father of the suspect.

The elder Salusad evaded the issue concerning his son’s arrest.
Instead he blamed the Liguyons for joining Kasilo, which he accused to
be linked to the New People’s Army, a charge that Kasilo has denied.
But several times during the dialogue, Salusad defended his son and
even assured the Liguyons of safety if they go home.

Benjamin Salusad surrendered last year with 79 alleged rebels, and
joined the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit. His son is also a
former rebel.

Lt. Col. Jose Ma. Cuerpo, commanding officer of the 8th Infantry
Battalion, denied they were coddling the suspect. He said that the
latter, as quoted in a radio interview, never threatened the Liguyons.
Cuerpo said the elder Salusad had difficulty contacting his son.

Citing the supposed difficulty of arresting the suspect, most of the
officials backed the idea of letting the municipal tribal council of
San Fernando handle the case using the indigenous justice system.

San Fernando town councilor Richard Lingcoran, chair of the committee
on indigenous peoples and vice chair of the committee on peace and
order, said the tribal way of settlement is the best way to address
the problem. He said the complainants need only to name a price or
demand so that negotiations can start.

Antipasado admitted that he asked Datu Magdaleno “Mayda” Pandian, the
Lumad mandatory representative to the provincial board, to initiate
settlement of the conflict through traditional ways.

But son Randy Liguyon said they would agree to a negotiation if it means
the tribal council will convince Salusad to surrender and turn him
over to the police to face charges.

Datu Ireneo Linsagan, one of those who surrendered with the elder
Salusad, said it is not good to fuse negotiations with the demands to
turn the suspect over to the police.

In June, the evacuees have rejected proposals to settle the conflict
through the indigenous justice system, and renewed their demand for
the arrest of the suspects.

The Liguyons said they never wanted to stay, too. They said would
return to Dao if their security was assured. The younger Salusad, who
had admitted to killing Liguyon in an interview over DXDB in March,
reportedly threatened to kill the victim’s family members and
supporters.

This forced the Liguyons and their supporters to flee Dao and seek
refuge in Malaybalay on March 14. In a protest march last month, the
evacuees decried alleged government inaction on Liguyon’s case.
The protest was documented by representatives of the New York-based
Human Rights Watch.

The provincial government has also announced the release of P15, 000 each per
family, a third of it will be handed in cash. The rest will be used
for farm inputs as part of the livelihood support for the residents.
(Walter I. Balane)