LIANGA, Surigao del Sur -- Barely a year after they returned to their homes, some 2,512 Manobos from Diatagon village and adjacent areas here have again fled out of fear that ongoing military operations would once again lead to human right violations and killings within their tribal communities.
The displaced communities of indigenous peoples (IPs) abandoned their homes on July 6 after military operations intensified in the hinterland communities of Lianga and nearby towns.
Most of those who have evacuated were the same people who fled on September 2015 right after the September 1, 2015 killing of three tribal leaders of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu) namely chairperson Dionel Campos, Kiwagan Datu Juvello Sinzo and Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) executive director Emerito Samarca.
An evacuee said the killers have yet to answer for their crimes.
“They are still out there,” Marivic Enriquez, one of the evacuees from kilometer 16, Diatagon village, said.
The Lianga Municipal Social Welfare and Development (SWD) office, in its July 12, 2017 assessment together with the provincial-SWD has estimated the number of evacuees at 2,512 individuals from 362 families with several families from the towns of Tago and San Agustin which are adjacent to Sitio Han-ayan, Diatagon village, Lianga where the bulk of the evacuees came from.
The number increased from figures dated July 5, provided by Karapatan Caraga which was around 424 households with 2,047 individuals from nine IP or Lumad communities in Lianga town.
According to Karapatan Caraga, around 200 students of the Alcadev, Inc. and 43 volunteer teachers of five Tribal Filipino Community Schools run by the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur, have also evacuated. A total of 633 Lumad students are affected with the suspension of classes due to the displacement.
Colonel Franco Nemesio Gacal, commanding officer of the Army’s 402nd Brigade, said soldiers have not been operating within the communities.
“The community is well within the guerilla base, even if there is no armed combatant within the community,” he said.
Gacal said the operating soldiers are about five to six kilometers away from the civilian communities.
“Now what are these NPA’s doing in your vicinity, they are training, recruiting, conducting activities like wedding and anniversary celebrations,” he said.
Gacal also said that the communities are situated in the Andap Valley which connects several other towns. New People’s Army (NPA) rebels are supposedly planning attacks on surrounding towns including attacks on banana plantations.
“We cannot just wait for the attack. We need to conduct our military operations to strike first. They might not be in their community, but 5 to 10 kilometers the NPA are operating, what will our government be if we cannot do our prime objective,” said Gacal.
The military official also blamed the evacuees for compromising the security of soldiers by turning to social media and handing out interview with the media.
Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on July 15, 2017.