ALMOST a dozen families have refused to go back to their homes following reports of supposed New People Army (NPA) rebels in the Cagayan de Oro City’s upland villages.
Pastor Roberto Cabaring of the Tribe for Christ church, one of the group's helping the evacuees, said about 10 families are still staying at a tribal shelter in Barangay Dansolihon following reports that Maoist insurgents were seen in nearby villages.
Cabaring said the families, who are members of the Higaonon tribe, are still afraid when members of the NPA’s Front 68 visited their community purposely to hand out flyers and even threatened something will happen if the villagers will report to authorities of the guerrillas’ presence.
He said those who chose to remain are from Sitio Pasao, a community located between the boundary of Dansolihon and Barangay Pigsag-an where the NPA fighter came to visit last January 12.
About 93 families or 230 individuals fled their homes following the presence of the armed insurgents in their neighborhood.
Those who evacuated from other communities such as Bulahan, Iba, Bato and Labugan went home escorted by soldiers after the military and the police had cleared the area last January 16.
Cabaring said he received information that residents in Pigsag-an saw a contingent of 60 to 100 armed NPA fighters passing by the area last Friday.
He said they were seen passing by in the afternoon and probably heading to the boundaries of either Misamis Oriental or Bukidnon.
In Pigsag-an, Cabaring had heard many of the residents also fled due to fear and even the high school there had suspended classes.
The remaining evacuees in Dansolihon, however, had to find means to survive away from their homes and livelihood.
“They are still staying at the tribal village. In the morning, the men would go back to Pasao to forage for whatever food they could find there and return to the shelter in the afternoon. They refused to go back home because of those reports of sightings. They would rather stay here for now,” Cabaring said.
From the shelter, it would take about four to five hours to reach Pasao by motorcycle.
Earlier, the NPA’s North Central Mindanao Regional Command admitted that the group who visited Dansolihon was their members but their purpose was only to conduct “peace lectures” and that they “meant no harm.”
The group allegedly distributed leaflets and asked residents regarding their opinion about the current government of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Ranel Lirongan, 34, a farmer residing in Sitio Bulahan, in Dansolihon, said at around eight in the morning on January 12, a contingent of about 60 heavily armed individuals came to talk to them but they did not introduce themselves as NPA members.
Lirongan said the insurgents were aged between 18 to 20 years old, and most of them were carrying long arms, either M14 rifle or shotgun, and were wearing black pants and black boots. Many in the group were had face masks on.
“At first, they were asking the way to Pigsag-an and Tuburan and the shortest way to Iponan River,” he said, adding that the mere presence of armed persons rattled him.
“I was not used to seeing a group of armed individuals and I was really afraid at the time. They told us not to report them to authorities or else face the consequence. They gave us leaflets but we turned these over to the village officials,” Lirongan said.
“They told us they are the soldiers of the poor, but we didn’t believe them because for us only the government has soldiers,” he added.
The group, he said, took pictures of the residents and soon left the area.
“We are appealing to the government to secure our community so they (NPA) will not go back. Their presence had really affected our children, and our livelihood,” Lirongan said.
In a previous interview, Captain Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said the military has assisted the police in scouring the areas where the NPA fighters were seen.
But in light of the ongoing unilateral ceasefire being observed by both the government and the Communist rebels as peace negotiations between two parties are underway, Martinez said the law enforcers could take appropriate action against the insurgents for possession of firearms and ammunition.