Tribal leader ambushed in Surigao Sur town

An Indigenous Peoples (IP) leader who has vocally opposed the presence of the New People’s Army (NPA) in tribal lands escaped death following an ambush by still undetermined number of armed men believed to be communist rebels in the Surigao del Sur town of Lianga Wednesday.

Datu Jumar Bocales, 46, the Manobo leader of of Barangay Ganayon and his companions were on board two motorcycles when attacked in Barangay San Isidro, Lianga, at around 1:40 p.m. while on their way home.

Capt. Francisco Garello Jr., civil-military officer of the Army’s 36th Infantry Battalion, said it was fortunate that Bocales escaped even if he sustained a gunshot wound on his left arm.

Garello said Bocales was able to reach Lianga police station and reported the incident to policemen, who immediately rushed him to the hospital for treatment.

A member of the Council of Elders, Bocales was also a former NPA member but surrendered to government forces recently. He has been vocal in opposing the presence of communist rebels in Lianga, where he said they continued to commit various atrocities against the IPs.

Recently, Bocales joined other IP leaders in rallies in Manila and Talaingod, Compostela Valley, to condemn NPA atrocities. He was with tribal leaders who met with President Rodrigo Duterte last month to seek help against the communist rebels.

“As a tribal leader he is deeply involved in protecting his tribe’s ancestral domain with the support of the local government unit of Lianga,” Garello said.

Bocales was one of the 42 tribal leaders who signed a manifesto early this month condemning the NPA for violating IP rights by entering ancestral lands without the clan’s permission, and for forcing IP youths to join the communist rebel movement.

He also alleged that NPA and its political arm–the Communist Party of the Philippines–have already “infiltrated tribal lands in Mindanao, creating divisions and sowing chaos in the rebels’ goal to topple the government through violent means.

IP leaders issued the manifesto following the alleged trafficking and exploitation of 14 IP children in Talaingod town at the hands of Bayan Muna leader Satur Ocampo and 17 other companions.

Bayan Muna and other leftist organizations have long been suspected by the military of being “fronts” of the NPA, which is listed by the United States as a terrorist organization.

The incident in Talaingod prompted the Mindanao Council of Elders to ban all non-government and even government organizations from tribal lands without first obtaining “free and prior informed consent” from their leaders.

Garello said the attempt on Bocales’ life is now being investigated by a joint police and military team.

The Surigao del Sur Police Provincial Office has also directed its units to ensure the protection of IP leaders in the province. (Lilian C Mellejor and Rhoda Grace Saron/PNA)