The Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF) on Friday has called for “a thorough, impartial, and deep investigation” into the alleged murders of volunteer teachers for the indigenous communities in Mindanao.
In a statement, the prelates said the “appetite” of the present administration to vilify, red-tag, frame, detain, and murder anyone opposed to its policies “is insatiable even in its remaining few months in power.”
EBF condemned the “cold-blood” killing of tribal school teachers Chad Booc and Gelejurain Ngujo II, community health worker Elgyn Balogo, and two others in New Bataan, Cagayan de Oro.
The Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines claimed that Booc and his company were killed in an armed encounter between the communist-led New People’s Army and the troops of the military’s 10th Infantry Division in Andap village in New Bataan on February 24.
Booc was among the seven volunteer teachers and an indigenous leader who were arrested and detained for kidnapping charges in Cebu on February 15, 2021.
Army Lt. General Greg Almerol, commander of Eastern Mindanao Command, said Booc “decided to join the armed movement, believing the deception of his superiors that bearing arms is the highest form of struggle” after his release in 2021.
The group Save Our Schools (SOS) Network refuted the military’s claim saying that Booc and the other four who got killed were intercepted while traveling, tortured, and murdered.
The SOS Network said the Booc, Ngujo, Balogo, and their two drivers were on their way back to Davao City after conducting a community visit when they were stopped and held by the military on the evening of February 23.
“We strongly assert that the victims were community volunteers and civilians from varying backgrounds, and their murder must merit the strongest condemnation,” said SOS Network.
“The [military] claims that an encounter occurred, but initial information from locals confirms that there was no encounter that took place,” the group added.
Marinel Ubaldo, advocacy officer for youth engagement of Living Laudato Si Philippines, described Booc as “a staunch environmental advocate and Indigenous People’s rights activist.”
“He was our partner in various advocacy works that champion the welfare of the Filipino Youth and the protection of the environment. In August last year, he addressed thousands of young climate advocates during the Local Conference of the Youth,” she said.
Ubaldo called on the government to “protect human rights and environmental defenders” and “provide justice for the murder of [Booc], who was so young and promising.”