(updated) The Army removed from their posts a company commander and 11 soldiers as it admitted seeing lapses that might have led to the death of three civilians, including two minors, in a clash near Sagittarius Mines Inc.’s (SMI) exploration site in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur, on Thursday.

1Lt. Dante Jimenez, commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion’s Bravo Coy, and 11 of his men were relieved so they can be investigated by a board of inquiry, Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza, spokesman of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said.

Paniza said Brig. Gen. Ariel Bernardo, commander of the 10th ID, ordered the creation of the board of inquiry immediately upon learning of the deaths of B’laan tribeswoman Juvy Capion, 31, and her sons Pop, 13, and John, 8.

Jimenez and his men will stay at Camp Manuel Yan, the 10th ID’s headquarters in Mawab, Compostela Valley, while undergoing investigation.

Lt. Col. Alexis Noel Bravo, commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion, was also summoned to the 10th ID headquarters but was not relieved, Paniza said Friday night.

Battalion commander’s relief retracted?

In an interview Friday morning, Paniza said Bravo was relieved along with Jimenez.

“Parang ganun ang mangyayari, somebody will take over while they are undergoing investigation, para ma-determine natin kung mayroon bang lapses doon sa rules of engagement,” Paniza said by phone.

But Bernardo, in a later interview with another media entity, said Bravo was “recalled for investigation.”

A source in the 10th ID confirmed that Bravo was indeed among those relieved, until Bernardo made the “clarification” in the afternoon.

“He (Bravo) was relieved under the doctrine of command responsibility, as battalion commander. Temporary lang naman ‘yun while the investigation is ongoing and that’s only procedural,” the source said before Bernardo was interviewed.

“Kaninang umaga malinaw na malinaw he (Bravo) was among those who were ordered relieved, as per our higher-ups, that’s where we based our earlier statements on,” the source said, after being told of Bernardo and Paniza’s new pronouncements.

Paniza issued a statement Friday evening, denying “news” that Army chief Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista ordered Bravo’s relief.

Lapse seen

In the Friday morning interview, Paniza assured someone will be made responsible for the deaths of civilians in the clash.

“Isa sa mga assurance namin sa public is we will see to it na may mananagot dito sa nangyari kasi hindi naman natin puwedeng sabihin na collateral damage lang ito. May pagkukulang talaga, so somebody has to answer for this incident,” he said.

Asked if that meant military saw lapses, Paniza said: “Most likely… hindi pa man natin ma-determine kung gaano kalaki ‘yung lapse, but since may incident na ganun, posible na may managot talaga sa nangyari.”

“We also welcome any independent investigation para madetermine kung ano talaga ang katotohanan,” he said.

No raid

Paniza, however, dismissed environmentalist groups’ claims that Juvy and her sons were killed in a “raid” launched by the 27th IB.

He maintained that the soldiers were “patrolling” in response to reports on the presence of armed men, and were fired upon until forced to retaliate by the armed group of Juvy’s husband Daguil Capion.

“Ang nakikita namin doon, na kaya pala nandoon ‘yung asawa’t mga anak niya… siguro pinaakyat ni Capion dahil matagal na niya hindi nakikita ‘yung pamilya niya, hindi na siya nakakababa. Hindi naman na-verify, hindi naman na-check ng tropa natin na may iba pang occupant maliban dun sa grupo ni Capion,” Paniza said.

Juvy and her sons are residents of the lowlands of Sitio Datal Blao, which lies near the boundary of Tampakan, South Cotabato, he noted.

Bandit?

The regional military spokesman also brushed off anti-mining groups’ claims that Daguil Capion is a B’laan warrior tasked to protect the tribe’s ancestral domain, a large part of which is now occupied by Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI).

“Bago pa man nagkaroon ng SMI sa lugar na ‘to, itong si Daguil Capion notorious na ito na bandido, marami na itong pinaggagawa… ngayon nung di napagbigyan ng SMI ‘yung kanyang mga hiling, ginamit niya yung SMI na rason para ma-justify ‘yung kanyang mga pinaggagawa,” Paniza said.

Among the recent attacks blamed on Capion is the June 20 ambush that killed retired Supt. Villamindo Hectin, a security consultant of SMI, and PO2 Rey Tonso, a member of the Davao del Sur Provincial PNP’s Public Safety Company.

Paniza noted that even he has had his share of encounters with Capion during his stint as commander of the 39th Infantry Battalion, which guarded Kiblawan from 2008 to 2010 before the 27th IB came.

“Napakatagal na problema na ‘yung banditry diyan, napagsalin-salinglahi na lang hanggang sa makaabot dun sa grupo ni Capion, nag-umpisa ‘yan sa cattle rustling… pag wala na silang makuha na mga farm animals, ang ginagawa naman nila nagtatanim ng marijuana. Several times na naming hinabol-habol ‘yang mga ‘yan dahil nagtatanim ng marijuana” he said.

Information drive

Capt. William Alfred Rodriguez, spokesman of the Army’s 1002nd Brigade which directly supervises the 27th IB, said the unit, for its parts, is conducting an information drive on the incident and extended financial assistance to the victims’ family.

“We see to it that timely information are sent to the persons or groups na dapat makaalaam nun in order to prevent wrong speculations. We also see to it that all possible assistance to the bereaved family,” he said.

The military shouldered all expenses for the burial of Juvy and her sons, which was scheduled to be held yesterday in Sitio Datal Blao, Rodriguez said.

Sagittarius Mines Inc. is the local partner of Swiss company Xstrata Plc. in operating a proposed gold and copper mine in an area straddling boundaries of Kiblawan, Tampakan of South Cotabato, and Columbio of Sultan Kudarat.

The area has a two-billion ton deposit of copper and gold, according to feasibility studies done by the companies. (John Roson)

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