An Indigenous tribal representative opposing corporate logging on ancestral land in the Philippines was murdered April 30, according to his fellow tribesmen.
Prior to his disappearance on that date, John Calaba advocated with PeaceBuilders Community Inc. for the cessation of logging on ancestral Dulangan Manobo lands.
PBCI is a Mennonite Church Canada supported ministry increasingly recognized as a bridge builder among Indigenous tribes, Muslims, Christians, guerrilla groups and the government’s military.
Calaba “was a passionate and dedicated campaigner for the cause of tribal rights and a faithful partner to PBCI in our efforts to address the struggle of the Dulangan Manobo,” wrote Jonathan Cranston, PBCI staff writer, in an update about the suspicious events surrounding Calaba’s disappearance.
According to witness affidavits, including one from Calaba’s father, three members of the Special Civilian Auxiliary Army, a militia sponsored by the logging companies, invited Calaba to a meal at their outpost. A tribesman passing by witnessed Calaba eating with them. Shortly after that, gunshots were heard coming from the post.
Dulangan Manobo representatives investigated the gunfire and were warned away by the post commander, who claimed that the post was under attack by guerillas.
Witnesses later observed six militiamen carrying something wrapped in a tarp. They drove away leaving a trail of blood droplets on the road.
Calaba’s body has not been recovered. Area residents say they expect further violence.
PBCI has walked with the Dulangan Manobo people for several years and offered training seminars on coffee growing through Coffee for Peace. In May, after Calaba’s death, PBCI commissioned five tribal members as Peace and Reconciliation monitors.
PBCI has a goal of establishing PAR teams in each of the Philippines’ 81 provinces by 2020. These teams will receive extensive training to respond to situations of violence with a nonviolent peace theology. There are already 25 PAR teams in operation.