CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY - To most local journalists covering the military and defense beat in Northern Mindanao, "Datu Jumong" was once the go-to person for interviews on the supposed "oppressions by the state" against indigenous peoples (IPs) like him.
But during a media forum here Wednesday afternoon, Datu Jumong made a turnaround that surprised many in the local media, primarily his claim that the IP group he once headed was a front for the communist rebel movement.
For years, Datu Jumong or Jomorito Goaynon, his real name, is known as a "human rights defender" representing the tribes in Northern Mindanao.
But it turned out, Goaynon said, the IP group he used to be affiliated with-Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization (Kalumbay)-was allegedly a front organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
"We don't give our personal opinion if we face the media and are asked questions. We answer based on what was mandated to us by the organization (CPP-NPA-NDF)," Goaynon said in the vernacular.
On January 28, 2019, Goaynon was reported "missing" amid reports that he was facing multiple charges of frustrated murder, kidnapping, and trafficking.
He resurfaced later and in 2020, Goaynon said he decided to surrender to authorities. He also admitted having been a member of the NPA for two years before he disappeared.
Following his surrender, the IP leader said the government dropped the charges against him.
Now, Goaynon has joined other ex-NPA cadres who regularly expose the CPP-NPA's alleged atrocities, methods, and tactics.
Goaynon also offered information about how the CPP-NPA-NDF allegedly operates in terms of recruitment and collecting funds.
"In 2016, we held a rally in front of the DA (Department of Agriculture - Northern Mindanao Office). We had a meeting with the (Regional) Director and said they are willing to partner with us (IP and farmers groups) and provide us with the things we need, through a memorandum of agreement," he recalled.
"But they (CPP-NPA-NDF higher leaders) asked me instead: 'How many (who joined the rally) have you recruited (to join the communist movement)?," he said.
The incident, he said, made him realize that the rebel group was not interested in improving the plight of the farmers and IPs, but only to recruit more combatants and engage in anti-government propaganda.
Goaynon said he also decided to surrender because the communist ideology does not conform with the values and belief systems of his tribe.
The communist ideology that he was immersed into, he said, is more "materialistic" and uses violence, in contrast to the way of life of the IPs is centered on peaceful coexistence and spirituality.
Now that he speaks up against his former group, Goaynon admitted that he fears for his life.
"Maybe for other ordinary members (who also surrendered), it was a smooth transition for them, but for us cadres who held key positions in the communist front organizations, it's a possibility that they will get us killed," he said.
Under Army's care
Maj. Francisco Garello, Army's 4th Infantry Division public affairs office chief, said Goaynon is currently under the care of the 403rd Infantry Brigade based in Bukidnon.
"There will be risks in surrendering (on the possibility of communist rebels retaliating against surrenderers). If they are afraid, they can go to the nearest Army units and let them know of imminent threats to their lives," Garello said in an interview.
He said the Army and law enforcement agencies are ready to help should there be threats to the lives of personalities like Goaynon.
Meanwhile, all Goaynon wants is to go back to his farm.
He also urged government agencies to obtain insights from his transformation and use the lessons learned to better educate the public on the government's anti-communist insurgency programs. (PNA)