Mayor Otaza laid to rest: 'He wanted a better life for the Lumad'
BUTUAN CITY, Philippines – Slain Mayor Dario Otaza – the former communist guerrilla who became mayor and improved the lives of impoverished fellow Lumad in Loreto, Agusan del Sur – was laid to rest along with his son Daryl shortly before noon Wednesday, October 28, in Butuan City.
Close to 3,000 attended the funeral amid tight security, more than a week after Otaza and his son, a special child, were abducted by New People's Army members from their house in Barangay Baan in Butuan on October 19. Their bodies were found the following day, hogtied and riddled with bullets.
The NPA owned up to the killings 5 days after, saying that they found the mayor guilty of “crime against humanity.”
Otaza, a Manobo, was a former NPA member himself. He left the movement and became mayor, winning in 2013 on a peace and development platform for his fellow indigenous people.
On the same day that Otaza and his son were buried, the international group Human Rights Watch issued a statement that said the NPA's act broke international humanitarian law and was "plain murder."
The HRW listed at least 6 killings for which the communist guerillas were responsible for.
Freed villages from NPA influence
In his eulogy, Colonel Rolando Dumawa, commanding offficer of the 26th Infantry Battalion, 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, said that in the short time that Otaza was mayor of Loreto town, he liberated 21 barangays (villages) from the influence from the NPA.
Otaza won as mayor in 2013, introducing the Upland Sustainable Agro Development (USAD) program, which addressed the core problem on poverty in the hinterland. Usad is also a Visayan term for progress.
Dumawa said that although Otaza, a former NPA guerilla himself, did not get formal education, his ideas on how to address poverty through agriculture development made the people turn their support against the NPA.
“He wanted the indigenous peoples to have a better chance in life by giving them government services that they had been deprived of,” Dumawa said.
Major General Oscar Lactao, commanding officer of the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, said that Otaza, who has become a partner for peace in 2013, is a great loss to the Lumad communities.
“Otaza had great concern for the welfare of his fellow Lumad,” Lactao said. Otaza was a Manobo.
Call for justice
Otaza’s younger brother, Wilfredo Otaza, called for justice for his brother and nephew. He said Otaza did nothing wrong and the trumped-up charges by the NPA against his brother added insult to the crime they committed.
Tribal leaders on Tuesday, October 27, flocked to Guingona Park in this city to call for justice and an end to the NPa's exploitations of the the lumad.
Rey Bago Cervantez Datu Payad Sangkuan, the regional chairman of the Caraga Regional Council of Indigenous Peoples and president of Sulong Katutubo, said that they are concerned the situation could worsen.
Cervantez said they fear reprisals from the NPA if the Lumad would stand up against them.
“We fear for our lives. If the NPA can do that with a mayor, what more with us?” Cervantez said.
Wilfredo Otaza, however, said that they would stand up for the legacy of his brother, knowing that his short service made an impact on the people of their town.
Agusan del Sur Governor Eddie Bong Plaza said that in the short time that he worked with Otaza, he saw that his vision of getting Loreto out of the grip of the NPA rebels was a great undertaking.
“We used USAD as our bible to bring development into the hinterlands and people saw that by working on the development of agriculture, people have income and he also put a stop to the revolutionary tax the NPA takes from the people,” Plaza said.
Ligaya Otaza, wife of Dario for 30 years, said that her husband was a loving person, firm but also willing to listen to suggestions.
“He knows what he wanted to do for the people of our town. He knew he was going against the NPA, but he loves his people,” Ligaya said.
“I told him that heroes belong to the grave, and now what happened? You’re a hero but now you’re gone,” Wilfredo said.
Wilfredo also revealed that Dario was able to file his certificate of candidacy before his murder. They are now in the process on selecting a substitute.
“He has no opponent in Loreto, the people believed in his leadership,” Wilfredo said.
Otaza got a 21-gun salute after a 3-hour necrological rites at the Santo Niño Shrine in Barangay Libertad, Butuan City. He and Daryl were laid to rest at the Uraya Memorial Garden, also in this city. – Rappler.com