BUKIDNON Gov. Jose Zubiri yesterday continued to hurl brickbats at National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales. He called the Palace official ‘‘irresponsible.’’
Zubiri’s tirades came even as the provincial board threatened to declare Gonzales persona non grata unless he apologized to Bukidnon for claiming that there were mass graves in the province.
The mass graves story was later denied by the source––barangay chairperson Jimmy Arion of Kibongtod, San Fernando town––whom Gonzales cited when he made the claim at Camp Evangelista over a week ago.
Zubiri said the story was a hoax. He denied that two mass graves were found in Quezon and San Fernando towns and that these yielded 29 bodies.
The bodies supposedly belonged to victims of the New People’s Army (NPA).
But Zubiri said only one body was exhumed by the military in San Fernando last year.
‘‘Bukidnon is peaceful,’’ said Zubiri, citing a military report that said the Maoist rebel group only has a little over 100 armed members in the province.
Bukidnon officials said Gonzales’ pronouncements make the province look like a ‘‘killing fields,’’ hence the demand for a public apology.
Arion, the village chief, was presented by the military to Gonzales during his recent visit to Camp Evangelista, the seat of the army in the region. After he ‘‘escaped’’ from Camp Evangelista, he claimed the military forced him to make the story up.
The police in northern Mindanao however defended Gonzales and Camp Evangelista, saying the claim was ‘‘factual and no concoction.’’
It was just a matter of semantics, said regional police director Chief Supt. Florante Baguio.
Said Baguio: "There are killings that were attributed to the CPP-NPA (but there are) no mass graves. The term used is not correct, it should be ‘buried separately.’’’
Baguio said the pronouncements of Gonzales were based on facts, adding that the remains of over 20 people murdered by communist rebels were found in the province.
But he said the victims were killed and buried separately since 2000.
The victims, he said, were ordinary civilians from the hinterlands of Bukidnon who did not cooperate with the rebels.
Baguio said he suspected Arion was under pressure, hence the retraction.
"The probability of a threat on Arion and his family is possible. That is the usual practice of the rebels," said Baguio.