Last month, I received the deeply saddening news that Kitari Capion, a young indigenous leader in the Southern Philippines had been killed.
Kitari had been shot three times by Task Force Kitacom, led by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The news shook me, bringing me back to my trip to the Philippines in November and December of 2012, where I served as one of the coordinators of Bayan-Pacific Northwest, a local coalition of grassroots organizations that is part of an international network of progressive Filipinos.
I was invited to participate in a human rights mission to Davao del Sur in Southern Philippines on November 16 through 18. At the time of my visit, the Tampakan Massacre had taken place less than one month before. Thirteen members of the 27th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army admitted to the massacre, but claimed to be in a “shoot-out” with Daguil Capion,. The soldiers later recanted this story when it became clear that Daguil was not at the site when the massacre happened.
Kitari, Daguil’s brother, was an anti-mining advocate of the B’laan tribe, and his brother Daguil had made headlines leading a tribal war against Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) and Xstrata, a multinational mining company that has been trying to establish open-pit mining in the village of gold-and-copper-rich Tampakan in Southern Mindanao, where the B’laan people consider their ancestral domain. Xstrata, is the world’s fourth largest mining company in the world, has more than 100 operations in 20 countries.
A big piece of our mission was finding a link between SMI, Xstrata and the Philippine army. Another objective was to document accounts of the murder of Daguil’s wife Juvy Capion and their two sons, John Mark and Jordan, as well as their unborn child (Juvy was two months pregnant at the time). This mission was led by human rights and church groups in the area that provided food, medical and traumatic counseling to the people residing in the nearby village.
A few of the witnesses we interviewed said they saw Dan Balandra, an ex-colonel who is now a security consultant for SMI and Xstrata, visiting with Daguil Capion the day before the massacre. He came to negotiate the terms of Daguil’s surrender. (Daguil has a price on his head, and is wanted “dead or alive”). Juvy Capion was an active member of KALGAD, a local organization of B’laans that opposes the presence of SMI and Xstrata in their communities.
After hiking further up the mountain to the Capion farm hut with the rest of the documentation team, I saw what was left of the evidence in what I was told was a “cleaned up” murder scene. We interviewed two villagers, who were eyewitness to the killings. They told us that 13-year-old John Mark, was sipping coffee outside his school uniform when the Philippine Army soldiers suddenly opened fire, a clear violation of civilian rights. His five-year-old sister Juvicky was hiding nearby with her cousin. The two villagers overheard the commander saying, “Kill them all so there are no witnesses.” One of the villagers risked their lives to take step in and take the girls to safety.
At the massacre site, I was in shock as I took photos of the scene and recorded the eyewitness statements. The hardest part for me was not hearing how they died, which was brutal, but how they lived. They had a house in the village nearby, but had stayed in the farm hut in the last few days to tend to their crops. There were newly harvested potatoes in the hut. I had images of John Mark getting ready for school, Juvy holding Jordan in her arms as they were killed, and Juvicky running to safety after witnessing her family get killed.
Due to security concerns and the looming presence of SMI-Xstrata operations, we left the area later that afternoon. On the way back, as I lay exhausted in the back of the truck shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow delegates. I looked at the mountains around me. They looked magnificent against the setting sun. I tried to imagine this land as a large pit without trees, wildlife and people. I tried to imagine living there my entire life, and having the land passed on to me by my ancestors. What would I do to defend that land if it were to be taken from me? I played local Bisaya love songs on my phone, and sang along to the lyrics I knew, to quiet some of the gloom I felt in my heart. The people I met— young and old — joked and laughed with each other to cope with the trauma and keep hope alive.
There is an ongoing campaign to bring justice to the Capion family. You can sign the petition to stop the Mindanao killings and find more updates at http://pusoseattle.wordpress.com.