Philippines: Dumagat Tribal Members Bury 2 Killed in Police Raids

Jojo Rinoza
Santa Inez, Philippines
2021-03-19
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Philippines: Dumagat Tribal Members Bury 2 Killed in Police Raids The family of Randy dela Cruz, who was one of nine people killed during the March 7 raids throughout the Philippines, mourn beside his coffin at the village hall in Santa Inez, March 16, 2021.
Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews

The Dumagat people who live in a mountain range outside of Manila are seeking justice for two tribe members who were among nine people killed earlier this month when police launched a crackdown against activists.

Puroy and Randy dela Cruz were laid to rest on Wednesday, 10 days after they were gunned down by police in what authorities described as a nationwide anti-communist crackdown.

“Why did they have to kill them?” asked Angelito dela Cruz, Randy’s 74-year-old father. “If they broke the law, the police should have just jailed them.”

The government insists the group has been penetrated by communist insurgents and that some members became fighters – an allegation denied by tribal families.

A BenarNews photographer who visited the Dumagat tribe in the Sierra Madre mountain range outside of metropolitan Manila to attend the burials found people gripped with fear. The 80 families, about 400 people in all, left their modest wooden homes in the forested upland called Santa Inez to stay near the community hall.

Angelito dela Cruz said the families knew there were insurgents in the area “but they never bother us.”

“The military tells us not to entertain them, but what can we do? They are armed and they are just people passing by who do us no harm,” he said.

The March 7 raids that left nine people dead across four provinces came after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the police and military to “kill all communist rebels in the country.”

Puroy and Randy dela Cruz were described as crop traders who on Sundays sold their products at nearby urban centers. Those trips allowed them to earn about 5,000 pesos (U.S. $100) each time – money they used to purchase essentials for their families.

A tribal elder who refused to be named said there was no reason for the pair to have weapons.

“The Dumagats would rather buy food than arms, which are of no use to them,” he told BenarNews.

But the Dumagats’ lifestyle is under threat from a massive dam project that would uproot them from their traditional homes. The government has approved the 291-hectare (720-acre) Kaliwa Dam, a project funded by China at a cost of $240 million (11.6 billion pesos) and scheduled to be finished by 2025.

Expected to ease water shortages in Manila, the project was one of the major infrastructure deals signed when Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Manila in November 2018.

Environmentalists have questioned the legality of the project, citing a Philippine law to protect watershed areas. Tribal communities also protested, claiming that the dam would displace many of them.

Burial

After a mass, tribal members prepared the white coffins to be carried to a burial ground atop a hill. Cries reverberated through the forest as the funeral march reached the cemetery.

Delivering a eulogy, one tribal member who declined to give his name for security concerns said the two deaths were likely just the beginning.

“We are asking for justice for them,” he said.

Another elder noted that the dual burial was unusual.

“Today is a very sad day, we are accustomed to bury one person at a time, this is the first time we bury two of our own and they both died violently,” the elder said in the local dialect.

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Dumagat tribe members, friends and neighbors carry the caskets of Puroy and Randy dela Cruz to a hilltop cemetery, March 17, 2021. [Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews]
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