BUTUAN CITY – The son of the Indigenous Peoples (IP) leader killed by the New People’s Army (NPA) on New Year’s Day has come out to tell the horrors he and his father had experienced while in the hands of their captors.
The face of “Gali” (identity hidden for security reasons), 11, no longer had the trace of terror when he faced members of the media on Thursday (January 9) in this city, as he recounted their ordeal that started in the noontime of December 31, 2019 up to the early morning of January 1, 2020.
The lifeless body of Gali’s father, Datu Bontola Tinaghao Mansinugdan, was recovered by the members of Higaonon tribe on January 2 at Kinabonglohan Creek in Barangay Kinamaybay, Esperanza, Agusan del Sur.
Gali said he accompanied his father early morning on New Year’s Eve to check the traps they set up for wild boars in Upper Agsabo, in the hinterlands of Kinamaybay.
Gali could only speak in his native tongue; his recollection of the events was interpreted by Marciano “Datu Bagwis” Tonogan, a Higaonon Datu in Butuan City.
He said they were about to finish checking on the traps when they chanced upon more or less 30 fully armed NPA rebels. “One of the NPA called my father ‘bayaw’ (brother-in-law) but I did not recognize him. They had a conversation and then they tied my father’s hands,” Gali narrated.
He said he doubted the NPA rebel who spoke to his father was a relative for it was the first time that he saw the guy. He added that the NPA rebels were speaking in Higaonon while the others in the Cebuano dialect.
After tying his father’s hands, the armed men brought them near the Kinabonglohan Creek where they stayed overnight. “I heard them speaking about killing my father. I could not understand why. I was so afraid because they were fully-armed,” Gali said.
They were not given food from the time they were abducted in the noontime of December 31 until the morning of January 1, he said. “I was so hungry. They separated me from my father and there’s no one I could ask for food. They ate but they did not give us food,” the boy said.
By the morning of January 1, Gali said he heard an NPA saying it was time to kill his father. “They brought me away from my father. I could not refuse because I was so afraid. They led him towards a big ‘Tugob’ tree. Then I heard a gunshot,” he said.
Gali said an NPA combatant then approached him saying: “Now you can go home. Your father is already dead.” But he refused to go home and instead ran towards the direction where his father was executed by the rebels.
“I saw his body lying in the ground covered with leaves of ‘mam-on’ (palm) tree. He had wound in the head. He was already dead,” Gali said. He then left and ran fast towards the direction of their village.
“I was crying while running. I was afraid they would kill me. I cried for my father. I pitied him,” Gali said. By the noontime of January 2, some members of the Higaonon tribe and relatives were already in the area where Datu Bontola was murdered.
“My father was buried in the area where he was killed by the NPA. My relatives covered his body with sacks and buried him there,” Gali said. When asked how the incident affected him, Gali directed his anger towards the NPA members who killed his father. “I want to be a soldier someday,” he added.
Respected community leader
Datu Manligonan Larry Mansinugdan, the barangay captain of Kinamaybay said Datu Bontola, his cousin, was a respected leader in their community. Datu Manligonan said the NPA has warned the leaders in their village of retaliation after they decided to cut ties with the rebels since 2009.
“Since 2009, they could no longer enter nor pass near our community. We decided to stay away from their movement in order to facilitate developments in our community,” he said in the dialect.
National Commission on Indigenous People-Caraga (NCIP-13) Director Ferdausi Cerna said the NPA has long displayed animosity against the Higaonons in the area, alleging them to be members of the so-called Bungakutal Liberation Front (BULIF). “The NPA said the Higaonons of Kinamaybay and the nearby villages are members of BULIF because they revolted against the NPA,” Cerna said.
But he clarified that the name BULIF was the creation of the NPA and is not recognized as a formal group of the IPs. Datu Manligonan said Higaonon leaders and members have received death threats from the NPA since the time they decided to support the government.
The case of Datu Bontola was a clear message to the Higaonons that the NPA is out to kill them, he added. Datu Manligonan also denounced the NPA for violating the ceasefire that was still in effect when they seized and killed Datu Bontola.
“The ceasefire was used by the NPA to roam around our community and conducted operations while the Army was confined in headquarters due to the ceasefire,” he said.
Datu Manligonan said they are now working for the filing of formal charges against the NPA who killed Datu Bontola and for the violation of the ceasefire.
With the death of their father, Gali and his siblings are now totally orphaned. Dir. Cerna said Gali’s mother died more than five years ago. Gali is the fifth of the six children of Datu Bontola.
“We will make some interventions to assist Gali and his siblings,” Cerna said. He said he will also convene some leaders of the Higaonon tribe in Kinamaybay for the possible adoption of Datu Bontola’s children to give them a better future.