Caught in between

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Monday, May 19, 2014


IT IS believed that when a child speaks, it always comes from the heart and that it is true. When a child speaks, one should listen, because every child's story displays a meaningful part of his life and a bright lesson for people.

Kim-kim Bagu is a 12-year-old child from Talumpungan, Talaingod. He used to go to school and enjoy his freedom but left for UCCP Haran last month along with the rest of the Manobo community as military troops allegedly began residing in their peaceful community.

"Nihawa mi kay para dili mi madamay kung magkagubot man, pero nagkagubot gihapon, naa pay bomba, naa pay namatay (We left so we wouldn't get caught up in case there was fighting, but people still fought and some died from bombs,)" Kim-kim said.

In a phone interview with Lt. Col. Patrick Cinco, he denied all accusations against their group. According to him, there is no reported military harassment happening in Talaingod. He said they were very careful in taking measures to clear the area of the New People's Army (NPA).

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In the interview, he emphasized that in every encounter with the NPA, they apply the rules of engagement to avoid putting civilians in danger. Lt. Col. Cinco also said that they didn't use any kinds of bombs during the encounter. He said they only fired machine guns and rockets using a rotary-ring aircraft but made sure that there were no lumads in the encounter area. The military also denied the issue of capturing an elderly woman named Ubunay who was allegedly used by the military as a guide for a week. He said that this incident was never reported to their office, so he concludes that it never happened.

Cinco explained that the group of Datu Doloman Daw Sai - leader of the evacuees - was being used by the militant groups. According to him, in the NPA, 75% are lumads from different places - Paquibato, Talaingod, Mawab and Agusan. It is easy for the NPA to manipulate and convince the villagers because they lack education and they are easily scared by them so they have no choice but to believe to whatever the militant group tells them.

There were 926 evacuees at the UCCP, and about 500 of them were children below 12 years old who walked for a week all the way from their community to Davao City. Although they received basic needs assistance from different non-government organizations (NGO) and private sector, they lacked medical assistance leaving the children susceptible to sickness.

Wearing tattered clothes and worn out slippers but flashing their tiny and meaningful smiles, the children evacuees gathered during interviews. Kim-kim, who knows how to speak Bisaya, spoke for the rest of the kids.
Kim-kim had no choice; he evacuated to avoid involvement in the conflict at their community even if it broke his heart because his parents insisted they leave.

Their school in the community was newly established, and that's where Kim-kim took his first step in learning, as a Grade 1 pupil in that classroom. It was free and most of the children in their community attended school there.

Kim-kim translated the statement of one of the children, saying, "Gusto na unta namo mubalik didto pero naa pama'y mga military, hapit na raba ang skwela, sige pami pangutan-on kung mga NPA ba daw mi o naa bay NPA didto sa amoa, mga bata paman mi, wala man miy kahibaloan ana, balik-balik pa gyud, di man dapat ing-ana. (We really want to return but military forces are still there. They kept on asking us if we're part of the NPA or if the NPA is staying in our area. We're only children who don't know anything about those things, but they keep on asking us over and over again, even though they shouldn't.)"

As the sees it, it is wrong. They are children who have rights. They have their freedom, and most of all they are innocent, yet to fully grasp what goes on in wars.

More than half of the evacuees are children; most of them are still very vulnerable to things happening around them.

Kim-kim said the food and aid that is given to them is enough but what they need is the comfort of their own home and environment.

"Kuntento na mi nga kamote amoang ginakaon adlaw-adlaw didto" (At home, we're content only eating kamote everyday), he said.

At their young age, the suffering of their people taught them how to be strong. It made them think that military forces are a failure, which instead of helping people attain peace, bring destruction, and even harass some of them.

When asked what he wants when he grow up, he answered, "Gusto nako mag maestro, gusto nako matudluan ang mga tao didto sa amo-a, gusto nako makatabang, gusto ko makahibalo sa tanan butang, ug labaw sa tanan, gusto ko muhawa na ang mga military aron makapadayon namig skwela aron matuman ning akong mga gusto, (I want to become a teacher, I want to educate the people in our community and help them out, but most of all, I want those soldiers to leave so I can fulfill these dreams,)" he shared.

Kim-kim is just one hundreds of children whose life has been disrupted by being caught in between two sides of a war.

In a recent meeting between the military, lumad leaders and NCIP, the military said they planned to file a case against PASAKA (federation of farmers), ANAKBAYAN and other groups for violating Human Rights for displacing lumads in their residence given the fact that these groups not from Talaingod. They are still discussing the matter, however.

The military assured that as of now, there is no more encounter between NPA and military in the area. Talaingod is now back to order and the Manobos are also back to their beloved homeland through the help of their local officials.

The military is asking for a fair investigation in this matter. They want the people to know the truth behind the issue. He claims they are not the enemy here. For the military, they say that all they want is to maintain the peace and order in Talaingod and protect these vulnerable lumads from harm brought by the militant groups.

For now, the issue seems to have been resolved. The local officials have ordered military operations in Talaingod to be stopped, and the Manobos have peacefully returned to their homes.

In the young, vulnerable minds of the children, however, they should have not suffered that. (Vaneza Kimilat/MSU Intern and Mariz Lindo/UIC Intern)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 20, 2014.

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