CAGAYAN DE ORO -- Some 52 families, comprising about 251 individuals, fled their homes in a village in Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental for fear of being caught in crossfire between military forces and communist rebels.

The families, from Sitio Camansi, Barangay Banglay, Lagonglong and mostly members of the Higaonon tribe, said the military’s presence in their community will endanger their lives due to the existence also of the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in nearby areas.

They fled around 10 p.m. Thursday, June 4, and arrived at the Provincial Capitol grounds Friday dawn, June 5.

This is the third time these families left their homes. Previously, the heavy military operations against the NPA rebels traumatized the residents, as they were caught in the middle of the fighting.

Roger Plana, secretary-general of the lumad group Kalumbay, said more than 60 soldiers of the 58th Infantry Battalion entered the community around 5 a.m. last Thursday, June 4. The people in the community were afraid of them and begged for the military to pull out.

Reynaldo Ayuma, 69, a resident in Camansi, said that while he was tending his crops around 5 a.m. of June 4, three soldiers suddenly appeared and one of them aimed an armalite at him.

“Ang isa mao tong nikasa sa ako sa armalite og giti-onan ko,” said Ayuma, adding the soldier accused him of being a member of Milisyang Bayan (MB) and asked him where his weapon was. Ayuma then raised his field knife and said “nia ra man akong armas.”

MB is likened to barangay police allegedly created by the NPA.

After Ayuma was questioned, the soldiers took him at a corner of his farm.

“Wala nako nila na-interview pag-utro kay niabot naman ang kagawad og ang mga sitio leader og mga tanod,” he said, adding his grandchild who was with him ran back to their home and reported to the family what Ayuma was going through in the hands of the soldiers.

Then a gathering at the community center took place where the military told the residents why they are back. Ayuma said the soldiers told them, “Ang among katuyo-an diri kaayuhan, maghatag og mga notebook sa mga bata, og mu-ayuda nga mapasiga ang electric kay naa naman daw.”

First Lieutenant Charles Valdez, who was speaking in Tagalog, asked Private First Class Fermin Lindahay to talk to the residents.

“Kamong mga sibilyan dinhi, ang tinuoray, wala mi nagdala og kagubot ang sundalo, ang NPA wala pud gadala og kagubot, mismo kamo mga sibilyan ang dala og kagubot,” said Ayuman, quoting Lindahay.

Lindahay’s statement angered the villagers.

After the soldiers told the barangay officials that the former would stay until June 6, the villagers decided to leave, bringing their families and some animals like dogs and chickens.

“Among kabaw nangabilin, among humay harbesonon, unya unsaon nga pag magpabilin mi diri isa ka semana nga maunsa nato among mga tanum, mga hayop,” he said.

He added that the soldiers are occupying their houses. “Dili mana magsilbi nga mag-ipon sila sa amo kay mga armado mana,” he said, adding it would endanger their lives when the military’s enemies come.

Assistance

Fernando Vincent Dy, officer-in-charge of the Provincial Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO), said they prepared tents, potable water, medicines and food for the evacuees.

The PDRRMO recorded 52 families with 251 individuals, about 100 children.

Dy said the Provincial Library now caters to the activities for the children through film showing and reading stories. They also asked the Provincial Health Office (PHO) to conduct free medical check-up for all of the evacuees.

Dy also urged the military to preserve and protect the properties of the evacuees.

4th ID to probe incident

Captain Patrick Martinez, 4th Infantry Division spokesperson, confirmed the presence of the military in the area and vowed to investigate the allegations hurled by the evacuees.

Martinez added the area is noted for the NPA’s presence.

Martinez said the soldiers are deployed in the area to secure it in preparation for the peace caravan and the ceremonial switch on of the electricity there.

“They are strictly ordered to secure the area, to look for the armed group resistance and not to harm the civilians. Wala pa gani ang development sa lugar, ang mga beneficiaries wala dun sa lugar,” Martinez said.

Martinez assured that once these programs will be known by the people, issues involving armed conflict will disappear.

He said soldiers are not allowed to occupy the houses of the residents. (LA Corrales/Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro)