Story

A Retreat From Massacre

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Sunang Diamante, whose son To was shot dead in December of 2017, fled her home for a sanctuary in Koronadal City. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018. 

Sunang Diamante, whose son To was shot dead in December of 2017, fled her home for a sanctuary in Koronadal City. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018. 

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Seven-year-old Angelo Wali wraps himself in a banner depicting his late uncle, Victor Danyan, who was killed in the December shooting. Wali lives in the Koronadal City sanctuary. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018. 

Seven-year-old Angelo Wali wraps himself in a banner depicting his late uncle, Victor Danyan, who was killed in the December shooting. Wali lives in the Koronadal City sanctuary. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018. 

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Inday Bantay, another survivor staying in the sanctuary in Koronadal City, lost her son during the shooting. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

Inday Bantay, another survivor staying in the sanctuary in Koronadal City, lost her son during the shooting. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

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Nelly Danyan sits with other survivors of the shooting in the sanctuary. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

Nelly Danyan sits with other survivors of the shooting in the sanctuary. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

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The B'laan, another indigenous group, live on heavily coveted lands 50 miles away from Sitio Datalbonglangon. A B'laan girl plays on a beach near Bulol Kilot, one of many small fishing villages in the region. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

The B'laan, another indigenous group, live on heavily coveted lands 50 miles away from Sitio Datalbonglangon. A B'laan girl plays on a beach near Bulol Kilot, one of many small fishing villages in the region. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

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Children kneel under a spigot to bathe in the Koronadal City sanctuary. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

Children kneel under a spigot to bathe in the Koronadal City sanctuary. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

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Assigned cooks must prepare enough rice and vegetables to feed the 70-some survivors staying in Koronadal City. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

Assigned cooks must prepare enough rice and vegetables to feed the 70-some survivors staying in Koronadal City. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

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Children from the B'laan tribe play in a creek near Bulol Kilot. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

Children from the B'laan tribe play in a creek near Bulol Kilot. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

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Sanga-Minson, 64, surveys his recently reclaimed land, in the Barangay T'konel region. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

Sanga-Minson, 64, surveys his recently reclaimed land, in the Barangay T'konel region. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

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37-year-old Carmela Ditan, with her daughter on her back, 64-year-old Mading Sanga, and 62-year-old Lendung Minson prepare to plant corn on their newly reclaimed land. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

37-year-old Carmela Ditan, with her daughter on her back, 64-year-old Mading Sanga, and 62-year-old Lendung Minson prepare to plant corn on their newly reclaimed land. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

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B'laan women work on their land to prepare for the planting of corn and banana trees end of April. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

B'laan women work on their land to prepare for the planting of corn and banana trees end of April. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

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For the B'laan of Bulol Kilot, the main source of livelihood is fishing. However, since many fishermen have ventured into Indonesian waters without proper permits, some of them have been jailed there. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

For the B'laan of Bulol Kilot, the main source of livelihood is fishing. However, since many fishermen have ventured into Indonesian waters without proper permits, some of them have been jailed there. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

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A raised right fist has become a symbol of solidarity among survivors living in the Koronadal City sanctuary. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

A raised right fist has become a symbol of solidarity among survivors living in the Koronadal City sanctuary. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

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Inside an NGO-funded sanctuary at Roxas village in Koronadal City. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

Inside an NGO-funded sanctuary at Roxas village in Koronadal City. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018.

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Residents sleep at the Roxas village sanctuary in Koronadal City. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018. 

Residents sleep at the Roxas village sanctuary in Koronadal City. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018. 

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The South Cotabato province at a glance. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018. 

The South Cotabato province at a glance. Image by Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos. Philippines, 2018. 

Even now, so many months later, Sunang Diamante can remember the sulfurous reek of the gunpowder.

“I was on my farm harvesting corn when the gunshots started,” she says. “The guns were being fired continuously.” It was the guns that killed her son, 23-year-old To Diamante.

On the morning of December 3rd, 2017, members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines came to Sitio Datalbonglangon, a small village of around 33 families located in the Barangay Ned region of the South Cotabato province in the Philippines. Sitio Datalbonglangon was home to Sunang Diamante, 48, and her fellow T’boli-Dulangan Manobo—an indigenous people of the region. From here, reports vary: Sitio Datalbonglangon residents say the military representatives demanded that leaders of their community falsely claim an association with the New People’s Army, a communist guerilla wing operating in the country, and turn themselves in to authorities. The military maintains that those community members indeed were members of the NPA. Either way, the community leaders refused to facilitate their own arrest, and the disgruntled military representatives left in a huff.

What’s not disputed is the bloodshed that followed. About 30 minutes later, gunshots rained down on the village from the surrounding hills. It was a piercing volley—one that villagers say continued for three days. All told, eight tribe members were killed, as were two soldiers.

“All I know is the reason why the soldiers did this: because of our land,” Diamante says.

Members of the T’boli-Dulangan Manobo insist the killings were motivated by greed. Nestled in rolling green hills, Barangay Ned has long held value to various logging, coal mining, and coffee companies in the country. Tribe members and human rights activists claim the massacre was essentially a government-backed land grab. They say the military’s insistence that the slain tribesmen were in the NPA is merely a cover-up. In April of 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte announced he would open up tribal lands throughout the country to private investors.

The remaining T’boli-Dulangan Manobo fled Sitio Datalbonglangon. A place that was once teeming with life—bamboo homes, a crowded basketball court, a noisy daycare center—became a ghost town seemingly overnight. Some were eventually apprehended by the government, and remain under close guard by the military.

Others, like Diamante, sought refuge at shelters in nearby Koronadal City, where they now live in crowded huts and sleep on cool floors.

At night, Diamante can’t help but contemplate the loss of her child and her home. She always comes to the same conclusion: “I cannot think of any sins that we have committed to warrant such an attack.”