By GERALD LEIGH LAQUINON
THE New People’s Army (NPA) owned up responsibility over last week’s execution of a tribal leader in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon.
In a statement on Friday, the rebel group characterized Datu Benjamin “Otto” Omao, the city’s mandatory representative of the indigenous people, as an alleged “hardened criminal, land grabber and a rabid counter revolutionary.”
Ariel Magbanwag, spokesman of the NPA South Central Bukidnon subegional command, said an NPA team carried out the attack at Omao’s office in the Indigenous People’s Apostolate in Purok 3, Barangay Casisang at around 8:50 in the morning of Tuesday.
“He was abhorred and feared by the people for a long time because he was armed,” said Magbanwag, linking the tribal chieftain to a crime group.
He said rebels failed to seize weapons that were locked up in Omao’s car at that time.
Magbanwag said Omao had been backed up by a colonel since 1995, and was only elected as the IP mandatory representative for two terms now by allegedly threatening his fellow chieftains into voting for him.
“The people in Malaybalay and Cabanglasan have long been asking [us] to punish Omao,” said the rebel leader.
Magbanwag called on the local government not to replace Omao with someone who has a criminal record and to scrutinize the profiles of all IP representatives at all levels.
Magbanwag’s allegations against Omao could not be independently verified from authorities at presstime.
Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesman of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said Omao was killed because he was an active tribal leader who strongly opposed NPA and communism.
“This action by the NPA is a clear contradiction to their propaganda, claiming that they support Lumad rights. In fact, this is another case in the long list of an estimated 428 Lumad killings perpetrated by the NPA,” said Martinez.
Supt. Surkie Serenas, Camp Alagar spokesman, said some six armed men killed Omao, and investigators found empty shells from AK-47 rifles at the crime scene.
Meanwhile, the NPA promised financial aid to two civilians who were unintentionally hit during the incident.
Barangay Aglayan’s tribal leader Thelma Saieto sustained a gunshot wound in her arm while office staff Sammy Talucdo was hit in the leg.