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Killings, land dispute turn tribal village into virtual ghost town

DAVAO CITY, Philippines - A hinterland district here has become a virtual ghost town as residents scamper to safer ground after the murder of a tribal leader last month. Emily T. Diarog, wife of slain K’lata-Bagobos leader Datu Domingo Diarog, said rumors of more killings sent 33 families in Sitio Kahusayan, Barangay Manuel Guianga in Tugbok district to nearby banana plantations or to relatives in the lowlands. Mr. Diarog was killed when unidentified men in bonnets strafed his house at around 10:30 p.m. on April 29. His wife and two of their daughters were also wounded in the incident. The widow claimed that she and her 10 children had to live in a makeshift dingy within the banana plantation in nearby Sitio Bato due to threats from unidentified men she claimed belonged to a local sect, Jesus Christ: The Name Above Every Name, under Rev. Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy. Mr. Quiboloy, however, called the charges "totally false and baseless, if not ridiculous." In a full-page advertisement in major community newspapers here, the pastor said the charges were designed to "confuse the true picture about the incident or mislead the authorities as to the real perpetrators involved." "Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte, as the father of Davao City, who has direct control over the political jurisdiction of the city, has spoken dismissing the rumors as untrue," Mr. Quiboloy added. The pastor is a known political ally of Mr. Duterte. Ms. Diarog claimed the local televangelist has been after their two-hectare land because Mr. Quiboloy plans to expand his property, the Prayer Mountain, in Barangay Tamayong. The slain leader’s house is at the boundary of barangays Tamayong and Manuel Guiang. Land payment She said the pastor has been coursing his offers through Tamayong barangay chairman Greg Canada, and the last offer of P50,000 was made a few weeks prior to the strafing. "But I refused because where are we going to put our 10 children?" Ms. Diarog said, adding her husband was also against selling the property since it is part of a 700-hectare ancestral domain of the Bagobos. Jonas Diarog, another relative of the slain leader, told city councilors at a plenary session that Mr. Canada asked him and his brother, Judy, on March 4 to kill the tribal leader for P20,000. When they refused, he said, men attempted to burn the house of Mr. Diarog four times on March 19, April 4, April 8 and April 20. Mr. Canada has since denied in a local television network about offering the Diarogs money in exchange for the property. Mr. Quiboloy also noted that the expansion of his religious estate is anchored on lands that will be offered for sale. Mr. Duterte has defended the pastor, claiming he knew Mr. Quiboloy since the 1980s and has no record of violent behavior. He said the pastor will not risk his reputation and all that he has built in exchange for a two-hectare property. The military said special civilian auxiliary units have been assigned to guard Mr. Quiboloy’s Prayer Mountain, which was visited lately by the President and top administration officials and politicians. Former Task Force Davao chief, Col. Alan R. Luga, denied that members of the government-supported militia serve as the private army of Mr. Quiboloy as they are covered by strict regulations under the memorandum of agreement they signed with the pastor. He said the 14 members working in Mr. Quiboloy’s area report directly to the new chief of Task Force Davao, Col. Ricardo Rainier G. Cruz, and are covered by military laws so they could be placed in court martial for any abuses. - Joel B. Escovilla, BusinessWorld