LORETO, Agusan del Sur---At least a thousand of lumads (indigenous people) line the streets to pay respects to the slain mayor of this hinterland town who was brought back here for a 3-day mourning on Friday (October 23).
A 30-vehicle convoy that carried the remains of Mayor Dario Otaza, 53, and his 27-yr old son, Daryl, left Bollozos Funeral Homes in Butuan City at around 8:00am. Among those who accompanied the group were local officials, members of the security forces and lumad leaders.
In Bunawan town, students of a public school joined the estimated 300 people who released white balloons as the vehicles passed by.
Mayor Edwin Cox Elorde, Bunawan town’s chief executive, said that Otaza is one of the best leaders in the province.
“He has accomplished so much in his 2-year stint as town mayor. Aside from his successful implementation of badly needed infrastructure projects, he was also able to convince at least 250 NPA members to lay down their arms and go back to mainstream society,” said Elorde, a close relative of Otaza.
As the convoy approached Loreto town at around 2:45 pm, more and more people took to the streets, waving white flaglets to pay their respects to the Manobo leader who gave them hope and inspiration.
Hundreds more residents patiently waited at the town hall as the hearse carrying the coffins entered the premises at around 3:20pm. River of tears flowed as six pallbearers transferred the coffins at the receiving area of the town’s administration building.
Mayor Salimar Mondejar of Veruela town said that Otaza was a big loss for the Manobo tribe and the indigenous people as a whole. He said that it is time for the lumads to be united for peace.
“We are all brothers. We should not kill each other to push our our own beliefs and purposes,” said Mondejar who is himself a lumad.
Also on Friday, the provincial police has filed a string of criminal cases such as kidnapping, robbery and murder against NPA personalities at the City Prosecutor’s Office in Butuan City.
Cpt Patrick Martinez, the spokesperson of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said that among those who are currently facing criminal cases are Rene Catarata (Hector Tindugan) and 7 others who were known only through their aliases (Mar, Janib, Cyrus, Thursday, Charlie, Max, and, Igan/Noel. A certain Leonardo Cancamo, the owner of the Starex van that was used by the NPA, was also included in the charge sheet.
Martinez said that the affidavits of the witnesses were taken by police investigators and were reviewed by Hon. Nemeson Canete, the DOJ prosecutor.
In another development, the Army’s 10th Infantry Division based in Compostela Valley reported that 5 lumad leaders of the New People’s Army have recently surrendered to its subordinate line units. Captain Ryan Batchar, the division spokesperson said that among those who surrendered on October 20 are known by their aliases as Idol, Ian, John-john, and Anjie.
Lumad groups are currently fighting a faction of their fellow lumads who have remained with the NPA. As of today, the Army has accounted at least 360 lumads who had been killed by the New People’s Army since 1988.
It can be recalled that there were lumads in CARAGA region who joined the NPA after signing the Magdel-ay agreement in 1994 but most of them bolted out of the armed group after the NPA cancelled the agreement in 2004 due to disagreements over the control of resources inside the ancestral domain