MANILA — Some groups have condemned the killing of Lumad school teacher Chad Booc, an alumnus of the University of the Philippines, during what the military said was an encounter last Thursday in New Bataan, Davao de Oro.
In separate statements, the UP CURSOR, an association of Computer Science majors of which Booc was a member, and the UP Cebu University Student Council (USC) said they "condemn the unjust and inhumane" incident, and "demand justice and truth."
"There has been no official evidence to support that Chad was part of the NPA despite repeated claims by state forces, resulting in his release last year," the UP CURSOR said, referring to the February 2021 incident at the University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus in Cebu City wherein Booc was among those apprehended from a Bakwit school for alleged trafficking of Indigenous Peoples from Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
"Chad was not only a staunch defender of the rights of the Lumad people. He wholeheartedly immersed himself in marginalized communities to learn from them and serve them to the best of his abilities," the UP organization said of Booc, who graduated cum laude.
Booc's younger sister, Nikki, also demanded justice and called for a "fair, impartial and thorough investigation of the incident" when she attended an indignation protest at the UP Cebu grounds on Saturday, according to the Save Our Schools Network Cebu.
The military said Booc and four others, including a certain Jojarain Alce Nguho II alias Rain, a certain alias Dayday, and two men, were killed during a clash with alleged communist terrorists in the morning of Feb. 24 in New Bataan.
But the Communist Party of the Philippines denied the incident, citing information from the New People's Army unit in the area.
In light of the CPP's remarks, the UP CURSOR said, "It should also be noted that the CPP-NPA is also known to publicly honor and acknowledge the death of their members. Thus, there is no reason to believe that Chad’s death was indeed due to an armed encounter between the AFP and the NPA."
In a statement on Sunday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Command said Booc was allegedly in the company of "elements of Regional Headquarters, Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (RHQ, SMRC) led by Eric Jun Casilao alias Wally/Ellan, and the Regional Operations Command, SMRC (ROC, SMRC) led by Leo Lacumbo alias Ole when the troops of 1001st Brigade's 25th Infantry Battalion engaged them in a series of encounters."
It said that government forces have been on pursuit operation against Casilao's unit following the release of the latter's 'Wanted' posters. Casilao, it said, has a P5.4 million bounty on his head and is considered a possible successor of Menanrdo Villanueva alias Bok as Commander of the NPA’s National Operations Command.
The EastMinCom said an M653 rifle, a caliber .45 pistol, hand grenade, an anti-personnel mine, assorted food supplies, and personal belongings were supposedly recovered at the encounter site.
"According to the revelation of his former comrades, Chad Booc, who graduated Cum Laude from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman in 2016 with a degree of Bachelor of Computer Science, was a known activist and a youth/student recruiter of the CTG (communist terrorist group) before he joined the armed movement," the military alleged.
It added that a certain Rurelyn Bay-ao, supposedly an IP youth leader from Talaingod, Davao del Norte who, according to the military, confessed about the purported radicalization of some schools so they can be used in mass protests and eventually join the armed group, claimed that Booc was his teacher in Haran, Manila, and Cebu Bakwit Schools.
Lt. Gen. Greg Almerol, commander of the EastMinCom, said in the statement that Booc "decided to join the armed movement" after his release last year, "believing the deception of his superiors that bearing arms is the highest form of struggle."
Nguho, for his part, was a former volunteer teacher at the Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao, Inc. (CTCSM), which allegedly being run by the communist movement in Maco, Davao de Oro before it was shut down in 2020, said Almerol.
"Even in his death, he was accused of being a member of the NPA..." the UP CURSOR said of Booc.
For the UP Cebu USC, Booc "is a true iskolar ng bayan" who "dedicated his life and abilities to serve the Filipino people", choosing "to be a volunteer teacher of the Lumad Bakwit School."
"After graduating as cum laude, he chose a path less traveled instead of pursuing a conventional career in the IT industry. He boldly and selflessly went out to serve the indigenous communities as a volunteer mathematics and science teacher for ALCADEV, a Lumad school in Surigao del Sur. Since then, he had devoted his life to serving the people in whatever way he could," added the UP CURSOR.
In denying the military's statement that Booc and the four others died in an encounter, the CPP said, "This would not be the first time that the AFP has resorted to such type of disinformation in order to conceal the cold-blooded murder of civilians and unarmed people..."
TRIBUTE TO CHAD BOOC
The UP CURSOR said Booc's death is a "huge loss not only to his family and friends but to the communities he lived with and the individuals he inspired as well."
"As the UP Association of Computer Science Majors, we honor the selfless life of Chad Booc, and remember his heart to fight for the underserved," they said.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. said dissenters like Booc are not terrorists.
"There is a very long list of UP students who have offered their lives for the people’s cause. Kevin Castro and Chad Booc now join the names we honor. The regime wants to paint them as unthinking, brainwashed fools. We know them to be the best and brightest of their generation," Reyes said.
"One cannot dismiss their sacrifices as the result of mere idealism or conspiracy. Clearly, the reasons why activists leave their comfort zone to tread the road less traveled are more complex and require a deeper examination of society as a whole," he added.
"Government mouthpieces will call them terrorists. To their friends and to the ordinary people whom they served, they are martyrs and heroes. Their memories will outlive the fascist monsters who up to know fail to understand what drives people to fight."
While he expressed his condolences to the families of the five people who died, Almerol of the AFP EastMinCom said, "This would not have happened if they took heed with our offer to abandon the armed struggle. Their only choice was to yield instead of sacrificing their lives for a terroristic cause."