Various formations and advocacy groups have heightened their calls for an immediate independent and impartial investigation over the massacre of five civilians in New Bataan, Davao de Oro last February 24, even as one of the victims, Lumad school teacher Chad Booc, was laid to rest yesterday in Cebu City.
Booc was among the five victims of the incident, along with fellow volunteer teacher Gelejurain Ngujo II, community health worker Elegyn Malonga, and their drivers Robert Aragon and Tirso Anar. The victims were first arrested, brutally murdered by the 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, then, were even dressed to make it seem like they were members of the New People’s Army (NPA), an initial report from Save Our Schools (SOS) Network revealed.
SOS, where Booc volunteered since 2016, likewise demanded that the Commission on Human Rights, United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights launch an investigation into the massacre.
A similar call was lodged by the Makabayan Bloc last February 28 as they filed a resolution urging the House of Representatives to condemn the killing of the New Bataan 5, as well as to direct the House Committee on Human Rights to investigate the incident. The measure has yet to be debated as Congress is in recess.
“Throughout their years of service, Chad, Jurain, and Elegyn had been subjected to threats, harassment, intimidation, including death threats, red-tagging and terror-tagging, and surveillance,” SOS said in a statement last February 27. “It is then even more deplorable that the people who take up the initiative to serve in far-flung communities … are targeted and killed.”
UP Association of Computer Science Majors (UP CURSOR), Booc’s organization whilst still in campus, likewise released a statement, drawing attention to Booc’s wholehearted service to various communities and the Lumad, debunking the military’s claim that Booc was an armed combatant.
Before his death, Booc was repeatedly red-tagged as state forces bombarded him with messages in social media coercing him to surrender as an NPA. He was also one of “Bakwit School 7” who were arrested in a raid of a Lumad school last February 2021 in Cebu City. But despite being on the receiving end of such attacks, Booc continued to volunteer in Lumad schools.
“Chad, alongside other teachers, never gave up their endless struggle to protect the indigeous people and their lands. In a ‘democratic’ society such as ours, it should not be a crime to be indigenous or to defend indigenous people and their rights,” the group said.
Apart from Booc’s organization, the UP Diliman (UPD) College of Engineering administration also expressed its remorse for the victims and demanded that the military be held accountable for the grave violation of human rights.
“We demand punitive measures to those accountable, starting with the AFP 10th Infantry Division all the way to the top brass! The spate of killings in our country that are conveniently attributed to 'encounters with the NPAs' are rising,” the statement read. The UPD Office of the Chancellor Executive staff also released a statement, reassuring its constituents that academic freedom will be upheld amid state-backed attacks.
UPD was the venue of a candle lighting protest and a tribute night for the New Bataan 5 last March 6 where victims’ family and friends delivered their heartfelt eulogies, messages, and reminisced about the time they had with them.
Nikki Booc, Chad’s sister, expressed their grief and disbelief of the incident. “It’s the first time my mother and I saw Chad in months and to have him back here in a lifeless state is devastating for our family. His death did not feel real until we finally saw him in a casket,” she said.
Booc had earlier insisted, through a social media post, that he be “planted” when he passes away, similar to the burial ritual practices of the Lumad communities. He recognized this as a way of encouraging the future generations to finish what he had started. Ngujo, meanwhile, was laid to rest last March 7 in North Cotabato.
Nikki spoke during his internment and recalled Chad's wishes as he was being buried: “The day has come when we finally plant Chad. Though we mourn, we continue to live out the same passion and the same dedication to marginalized sectors he once lived his life with. Chad, we will find the justice you deserve.” ●
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