Leoncio Pitao: Legendary rebel, defender of the poor and oppressed
THE death of Leoncio Pitao on Sunday came a shocker for many of those who know the most elusive rebel leader in Southern Mindanao.
The military lauded his death — with a top military official declaring that this is the start of peace in Davao City Paquibato District.
Major Gen. Eduardo Ano, commander of the 10 th Infantry Division, said Parago’s death is hoped to spark “true and lasting peace” in Paquibato District.
He credited the death of the long-time leader of First Pulang Bagani Company of the Merardo Arce Command of the New People’s Army to some villages who “have been fed up with the group’s banditry and terrorism.”
But for some, Parago is far from terrorist or bandit.
“He is the community’s defender, the head of the family — our tatay, our father,” said a woman who requested not to be named.
And the 57-year-old Parago is known in Paquibato as ‘Tatay’.
Parago is a soft-spoken, almost shy, rebel leader. He joined the movement in 1978. He was arrested in 1999 while he was visiting his family in Davao. He was released in 2002 and shortly after, he joined his comrades in the mountains of Paquibato once again.
He was never captured again since. He gained the ‘notoriety’ of being an elusive rebel leader in Southern Mindanao. Many said this was primarily because of his charisma. He, too, has earned the respect and admiration of the masses.
“He is a defender of the poor people of Paquibato. He will always be remembered as the rebel leader who always made sure that the rights of the people are protected,” a farmer said.
On March 5, 2009, Parago’s daughter, Rebelyn, disappeared after taken by suspected agents of the military. Her body was later found with signs of sexual abuse and torture. The 22-year-old Rebelyn was a volunteer teacher.
In his grief, Pitao continued to serve the “revolution of the poor”. He constantly stood for the people and against anti-poor programs and projects.
He has been vocal against the entry of large-scale mining in Davao communities and warned that mining trucks and equipment will be torched down by the rebels in Paquibato.
“These projects, these companies, can only expect punitive actions from us,” he told journalists once.
Online, people expressed their shock over the death. Then came the expressions of grief.
“You are a respected person because of your principles and goodness to the masses” said Eric de Guzman Agdon.
A Muslim, Rappa Nui, said “I salute you because you are real revolutionarian.”
The death of Parago came only two weeks after the government said it is ready to open negotiations with the National Democractic Front of the Philippines, the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Human rights lawyer Angela Librado-Trinidad scored the military celebration over Parago’s death, saying it showed how the government views the insurgency problem in the Philippines.
“There is something innately wrong here. It is obvious that the government is not serious in dealing with this problem. It is wrong when only see this as a numbers game. There has never been a single mention about proceeding with talks to prevent further deaths of combatants and civilians,” she said.
This is dangerous, she said.
“When the government sees revolutionarians like Parago as TV personalities, and not an opportunity to campaign for peace, the Filipino people are doomed,” she said. | JMT, NewsDesk