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The killing of Datu Diarog

Thumbnail photo from Traveling Erol’s You Tube post

It happened in the dead of night in a remote mountain village 16 years ago. At 10:30 in the evening of April 29, 2008, the air was still and only the sound of crickets stirred the dark evening silence. The Klata Bagobo were all asleep.

And then there was gunfire. Men in bonnets started strafing the hilltop house of Datu Dominador Diarog. He was killed instantly. His wife and four children, all asleep, were wounded. The next day, the 33 families of Sitio Kahusayan, Barangay Manuel Guianga, Tugbok district, Davao city, left their homes. Kahusayan (Cebuano for place of settled disputes) became a ghost town.

Who was Datu Diarog?

He was a poor farmer who owned an ancestral land of two hectares. Like Davao city’s poor plantation economy overhyped as first world, the area around Barangay Manuel Guianga was planted to bananas, a cash crop that was not the staple of poor farmers like the Datu. Davao city has always had a plantation economy since the 1920s. As plantations spread their land reach, indigenous peoples like the Klata Bagobo lost their ancestral lands.

It was the same economy that hubris and fake news gave Rodrigo Duterte the edge of a false veneer that he had developed the city and which propelled him to the presidency in 2016. In 2008 when Datu Diarog was murdered, Duterte was city mayor.

Duterte has always sealed all main entrances to Davao city with a militarized checkpoint manned by what is known as Task Force Davao (TFD). Buses that travel to the city are required to stop, its passengers made to alight and fall in line before military men. It is the same with private vehicles. The image is a city with a controlled peace and order situation. Even that was false. But this was the Duterte way to welcome you to make-believe Davao city under his factotums the TFD.

At the time of the Diarog massacre, the TFD was a component of the Philippine Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion. Day in and day out for about two decades now, that is their job – to man the checkpoints of a city that the Philippine National Police said had the highest murder and homicide rate in the country from 2010 to 2015, and No.1 in the entire country of rape cases in 2018. Like the Davao of the 1950s when crime, smuggling and bossism flourished, the Davao under Duterte in the 21st century was no different. It was still the criminal capital of the Philippines.

Immediately, the 73rd IB issued a statement, that it was the New Peoples’ Army who killed Datu Diarog. In Davao city, no one bothers to check facts. That is not a preoccupation there. All that matters is to survive under the climate of fear of its mercurial Duterte rulers.

The pattern was typical Davao city script: whenever a poor family was massacred, the blame immediately goes to the NPA. A year before Datu Diarog’s murder, a family of four was massacred in Sitio Isled, Barangay Dalagdag, Calinan, Davao city. But the NPA’s 1st Pulang Bagani Command led by Leonardo Pitao alias Kumander Parago, the friend of Duterte, pointed to the Alamara, a group of IPs formed by the military to fight the NPA. Pitao said the Alamara was responsible for banditry, salvaging and intimidation in the city’s hinterlands.

A year after, the Datu’s wounded widow Emily Diarog and her children scampered to safety in a makeshift lean-to among the banana trees. A day after the Datu’s burial, Datu Dogris Daug and several Klata Bagobo leaders picketed city hall to demand Duterte’s help in solving the murder. Duterte never showed up.

Oftentimes because of the climate of fear where Davao city media is monitored and muted by the Dutertes, people in the hinterlands rely on the NPA’s social investigators to expose the masterminds of the city’s crimes against the IPs. In 2021, its Philippine Revolution Web Central (PRWC) revisited the period following the Diarog massacre:

That AFP troops escorted “backhoes to bulldoze the ancestral land of the Bagobo Klata, especially the area of the slain Datu. Troops from the 84th IB and 73rd, and currently the 3rd IB, have served as lowly security guards” of the fenced and gated compound that have sprung up on what was once the lowly hilltop hovel of Datu Diarog.

It was only after his death that the details exploded on Davao city’s residents’ faces. The Datu’s son Diolito related: Early in 2018, the barangay chairman of the adjacent barangay of Tamayong Greg Canada had twice seen his father. Canada insisted to buy the Datu’s hilltop two hectares. The price? Only 50,000 Pesos. During both meetings, Datu Diarog refused.

Thereafter a series of harassments followed.” There were four attempts to burn their farmhouse, Diolito related – 1 a.m. on March 1, 1 a.m. on April 4, 4 p.m. on April 8, and 2 p.m. on April 20.

The Datu’s nephews Danny and Junaz also related that Canada approached them to buy their two-hectare land for 100,000 Pesos. They were left with no choice. But there was one more – they were also offered 20,000 Pesos to kill their uncle Datu Diarog. They refused.

Who killed Datu Diarog? Kahusayan’s residents say soldiers of Task Force Davao are regularly seen operating in the area, and it has been known to the residents that the TFD soldiers have close links with the private army of the gated, fenced compound in the vicinity.

Kahusayan is on the boundary of Barangay Tamayong. Today, Datu Diarog’s hilltop is known as the Tamayong Prayer Mountain, a.k.a. Glory Mountain.

Today, Datu Diarog’s hilltop is known as the Tamayong Prayer Mountain, a.k.a. Glory Mountain. Apollo Quiboloy, the “appointed son of god” he says he is, lives there.

The PRWC gives the best and winning description:

“Apollo Quiboloy enjoys an international criminal’s dream: a co-dependent relationship with the ruling national and local political dynasty, most especially with the clan patriarch, and the protection of the mercenary Armed Forces of the Philippines to safeguard his multi-million pseudo-religious business empire.”

“Rodrigo Duterte and the AFP have their hands bloodied by the crimes of the monster Quiboloy, who for decades have given the megalomaniacal landgrabber safe haven and free rein to enslave and exploit peasants and Lumad, expand his empire into several other industry lines such as food and agricultural export, education, and media, and conduct his human trafficking and other criminal activities.”

 The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.