To the students of Lumad Bakwit School in Sultan Kudarat, Rowe Jhon Libot was a teacher. He was a friend and dedicated scholar to his colleagues at Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation. But for the military, he was an enemy.
Libot, on his way to volunteer in a medical and food caravan in General Santos City, was killed by the 37th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) last July 27. His death was only confirmed on Friday by the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network where he volunteered.
AFP and Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat police’s official incident report insist that Libot and his two company fired without warrant at the officers. The brigade retaliated and killed Libot during the alleged encounter, while the two were captured at a later incident.
But communities near the place of the incident told SOS Network that only three gunshots were heard, suggesting that there was no exchange of gunfire. This firsthand narrative belies a July 31 bulletin by the 37th IB that says the incident lasted for about 20 minutes. The military also accused Libot of being a wanted criminal and a terrorist leader despite not having any records.
“From 2014-2018, Rowe was an exemplary college student at Liceo de Davao-Tagum, even serving on the senate of the student council. He graduated earning a degree in Bachelor in Secondary Education major in English. The AFP's claims that he faced charges since 2017 are patently untrue,” SOS Network wrote in a statement on Friday.
From 2017 to 2019, SOS Network documented 584 cases of militarization in Lumad schools. The 37th IB’s commander Michael Santos considered the operation a “mission accomplished.” Yet in the same vein, Santos said that the government and military wish to foster peace in the province.
This is not the first time the AFP killed a volunteer teacher. Chad Booc, a Lumad school teacher, was also killed by the military last year in a similar manner. Booc, along with four others, were tagged by the military as terrorist recruiters.
Lumad schools have also witnessed multiple instances of red-tagging from state forces and bombing in 2017. Last year, Vice President Sara Duterte said that the Lumad have become a breeding ground of terrorism, defending the government’s decision to shut down their schools.
Libot’s death marks another blow to the education and safety of indigenous people in Mindanao. His friends and family remember his dedication to Lumad's education. The SOS Network says that this killing shows a “pattern of violence.” It also violates the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law which guarantees safe engagement between the government and minority advocates.
“We demand a full, impartial investigation into Rowie's murder. The Commission on Human Rights must urgently conduct an on-site probe to expose the truth and end impunity for attacks on Lumad communities and human rights defenders,” the group wrote. ●
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