Special Mission, Dirty Tricks


“The truth conquers!”

That gleeful statement comes from Harold Cabunoc, the Army lieutenant colonel on a special mission to convince the public that lumad in a Davao church sanctuary and their protectors are members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.

On Twitter, he crows, “the truth hurts!” while announcing the impending release of recordings of conversations between military brass and UN Special Rapporteur on Internally Displaced Peoples Cheloka Beyani. The release of the recordings came after journalists questioned a press release from the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command.

Its headline screamed: “LUMADS IN HARAN ARE MANIPULATED: Not Evacuees but victims of trafficking.” Its lede said: “Members of Indigenous People (IP) inside the compound of United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) in Haran, Davao City are manipulated, not evacuees but victims of trafficking.”

The AFP attributes that claim to Beyani, who visited the Philippines last month and talked with more than 700 lumad housed in the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. Beyani’s official end-of-mission statement was vastly differently from the military’s release so some journalists wrote to the UN official’s office to verify facts.

Three journalists who joined Cabunoc in Davao came out with stories that repeated the military line. dzRH’s Bing Formento has a youtube video with a similar headline, barely anything on Beyani and a lot of interviews with pro-military lumad.

screen grab of Bing Formento's youtube post
screen grab of Bing Formento’s youtube post

I do not question the interviews with the other lumad datus. But I asked Bing, a colleague in a former workplace, if he was present during the briefing, or had seen or heard any recording that substantiated the story.

It was a pretty convoluted conversation. In the end, he admitted not having listened or seen any recording before doing his story. Some journos asked how he could use Beyani without counter-checking. Bing said he interviewed with other datus, which hardly answered the question. (We’ve invited Cabunoc to present the datus for interviews.)

Bing, the head of the defense beat press corps, then said on my Facebook thread:

‪Bing Formento‪ ·”‪Sino ba ang tutulungan natin ang gobyerno natin o ang mga teroristang NPA”

Bing Formento‪ · ‪For me kasi inday mas credible na dapat tulungan ang ating gobyerno. Kita naman natin na ayaw ng NPA magkaroon ng development sa area na ginagalawan nila. Kung may mga abusadong militar madali namang maireport dahil may mga pangalan at kampo maituturo para sila managot sa batas. Sa NPA pag umabuso saan ka magrereklamo?”

That prompted journalists and rights workers to ask if he was a reporter or a PR agent for the AFP – which claims the lumad protectors are NDF/NPA. His reply:

‪Bing Formento‪ · ‪Well hindi ko itinatago ang sarili ko and I am happy and proud to be the mouthpiece of AFP to report the truth.

“The truth.” That’s a big phrase. Beyani response: “Gross misrepresentation.”  

It’s Cabunoc, however, who should bear the brunt for any embarrassment faced by the AFP – and the Philippine government — for this stunt.

The EastMinCom issued the release. Cabunoc led the social media charge as befits a man on a special mission.

Did the the AFP break protocol in leaking the conversation with Beyani? Only the UN office can answer that. The leak does show the truth. It  shows the public that the AFP did deleted substantial and critical portions of Beyani’s statements.

Beyani was respectful and accepting of the lumad plaints. He actually refutes the AFP line by stressing   that he had walked in unannounced and was allowed random interviews. READ: UN special rapporteur’s office hits AFP for ‘gross misrepresentation’

Bai Bigcay accused Catamco of manipulating their statements to justify the violent storming of their Haran sanctuary on July 23.
Bai Bigcay accused Catamco of manipulating their statements to justify the violent storming of their Haran sanctuary on July 23.

The deleted portions show who did the manipulation. Beyani notes  the police who stormed Haran on July 23 to “rescue” the “trafficked” lumad were given the wrong information.

The AFP also conveniently leaves out the identity of the person who peddles the wrong information:  Rep. Nancy Catamco.

The lumad have accused Catamco of manipulation, the very reason a respected female chieftain heaped scorn on her in a very public scolding right after the botched “rescue”. READ: Fiery Chieftain takes down Catamco

Beyani actually  gives the AFP advice that they’ve heard from church workers to the lumad themselves: Send neutral negotiators. Ask the lumad what they want. Listen to them. Try to find a meeting ground and set conditions for their eventual return.

Sounds like Palparan

Obviously, Cabunoc is doing the opposite by sticking to the same Catamco game plan. He wants to force the issue, the very thing Beyani warned against.

Worse, Cabunoc is beginning to sound like Jovito Palparan, the hero of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo facing charges of murdering legal activists.

He sent a video by the lumad ally, Save Our Schools network, saying it was proof of NDF NPA teaching. The children of Talaingod were singing about the need to defend their land, the forests, their ancestral homes. They were learning about the pernicious effects of big-time logging.

Displaced Lumad in Haran, Davao City. (Photo by inday espina-varona)
Displaced Lumad in Haran, Davao City. (Photo by inday espina-varona)

We in the comfort of Manila and other urban areas can only imagine. Maybe we can weep. But we can never really step into the tattered slip-ons of the children of Talaingod nor plumb the anguish of teachers who balance the need for literacy – a need not met until the arrival of the Rural Missionaries – and the equally urgent need to preserve a threatened culture.

This is their reality. And they are not alone. Beyani spoke of South Cotabato, of Tampakan, where resistance has led to the murder of ten lumad, where the future could bring the devastation of 10,000 hectares of land, where a planned open pit mine intrudes on head waters of rivers that feed a food basket that provides 20% of its rice to us in Metro Manila. The lumad at Haran say destruction of their lands would bring disaster to the teeming lowlands of Mindanao.

There is a datu in Haran. In the old days, he says, their elders told them not to send their children to school. That would deliver them into the maws of a giant out to devour their land. That would let them chase after material wealth and see their culture as a shame.

And then they learned that to defend their land, they had need of education. And they struggled with the help of friends to build their schools. Now, they are armed with knowledge and equipped with pride in their culture. And they are called communists.

Missing the professionals

As another journalist — Nonoy Espina of Interaksyon, my brother, says… we miss the likes of (now congressmen) Pol Bataoil and Sammy Pagdilao.

“They were spokesmen for the uniformed services they belonged to but they never, ever spouted unadulterated bullshit and certainly did not expect you to swallow, or even acknowledge, what they said… it was all about intelligent — as opposed to intelligence — discourse and respect… plus, of course, because of respect, the off-the-record repartees were always precious.”

We have Cabunoc now. After two days of social media discussions, a stern response from Beyani’s office, and journalists transcribing recordings released by Cabunoc himself, the major is singing a different tune.

On Facebook, Cabunoc now says: “kahit ano pa ang kahinatnan ng audio recording ng exit statement ni Beyani, hindi iyan magbabago sa katotohanang may nalilinlang na mga lumad kagaya ng grupo nina Lito Lundia na aking kababayan sa Bukidnon.” (Whatever is the result of the audio recording of Beyani’s exit statement, that will not change the truth that the lumad deceived the group of Lito Lundia who is my provincemate from Bukidnon.)

From portraying the lumad in Haran as victims – a plaint first raised by Rep. Nancy Catamco, chair of the House Committee on Indigenous Peoples – Cabunoc now says they are NPA followers:

‪”Wag tayong makinig sa KARAPATAN at GABRIELA at sa mga lumad na sumali sa CPP NPA NDF lamang. Mas marami ang ayaw ng kaguluhan at ayaw sumawsaw sa rally bilang “bakwit” kuno. Makinig din tayo sa mga pinuno ng mga biktima ng trafficking (Taktikang Bakwit ng CPP NPA NDF). We must protect them from harm.”

(Let us not just listen to Karapatan – a human rights group – and Gabriela — a party-list for women under the Makabayan bloc – and the lumad that joined the CPP NPA NDF. More are averse to conflict and do not want to join the rally of those supposed evacuees. Let us listen to the leaders of the victims of trafficking.)

Post from Harold Cabunoc's Facebook page
Post from Harold Cabunoc’s Facebook page

He also posts on his Facebook page a video of a pro-military lumad datu. Cabunoc’s introduction says the NPA and NDF “used threats and intimidation to haul people from hinterland communities to UCCP Haran.”

“Contrary to the claim of the CPP-NPA-NDF, the military is not responsible for the trafficking of indigenous people to Davao City.”

If Cabunoc sounds confused, it is because he is.

Nobody has accused soldiers of human trafficking. They are accused of taking over lumad schools and communities.

The major also attacks the current displaced lumad in Haran using a case that has nothing to do with them. He cites a suicide of a lumad from Bukidnon, an incident that happened last year during another evacuation.

Lito Lundia did commit suicide. On returning home, his wife  eventually committed suicide. It is a tragic story. The pro-military datus say Lundia was desperate to go home. A Bukidnon datu now in Haran told me when I visited more than a week ago that Lundia was, indeed, desperate to go home.

All the lumad say they want to go home. But, and here’s the big but, they fear going home because of a demand to conscript for the paramilitary, who actually accompanied Catamco to Haran.

The Bukidnon datu says Lundia pined for home but was also scared and terrified about being forced to join the paramilitary forces. He had been troubled for some time, even before he joined the exodus to Davao. About his wife, who left three children, respect stops me from citing what other lumad said was another reason for her suicide.

Cabunoc also says the NPA has kidnapped four witnesses to the Lundia case, which they are using to file charges against several people, including a Catholic nun. When the post is scrutinized, it actually talks of the disappearance of four people the military wants to stand as witness. It also says some datus have gone to negotiate with the NPA for their return. I am leaving that as it is. Events in Davao have a dramatic way of unraveling.

4 thoughts on “Special Mission, Dirty Tricks

  1. Paano naman makakuha ng patas na pagbabalita ang AFP sa iyo inday e mga instrumento kayo ng makakaliwang grupo….

    Like

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