WHILE going after a lawless group in February, the army stumbled upon a Ata-Manobo village of 100 households in Sitio Tapayanon within the tri-boundaries of Bukidnon, Agusan del Sur, and Davao del Norte.
Lieutenant Amadeuz Vincent John Celestial, CMO of 60th Infantry Battalion, during a press forum Wednesday, April 10, at The Royal Mandaya Hotel, said their unit found 120 Ata-Manobo families or around 500 individuals.
In February, the 60th IB government soldiers crossed the political, administrative boundaries and went outside the designated limits of its area of operations while running after the enemy. Not familiar with the terrain, they accidentally came across the tribal village. Fortunately, they were not engaged in a firefight.
“Not only were we the first soldiers [to discover the area] but we were actually the first government unit na nakarating na doon and sa side ng government, hindi rin natin masisi ang aming mga sarili talagang napaka isolated ng area,” Celestial said.
The community could be reached after a 10-hour trek from the nearest sitio in Cabanglasan, Bukidnon. Due to its isolation, it has not received any government assistance.
With the help of various government units within the 60th IB area of operations, they brought an initial P200,000 worth of aid to Sitio Tapayanon. This includes assorted medicine, rice, can goods, noodles, coffee, corn seeds, and assorted vegetable seeds, among others.
They used a chopper of the Philippine Air Force to deliver assistance.
“Tapayanon is important because for a long time, the Pantaron Mountain Range has been nothing but a battleground dahil nasa boundary siya ng iba’t ibang probinsya. What happens is every time na tumatakbo doon ang kalaban natin, the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army), ang mga infantry units natin stay at their boundaries, walang nag co-cross dahil sa aming SOP (standard operating procedure),” Celestial said.
The community is so remote that the residents do not have a teaspoon. To take medicine, they used the bottle caps instead. Celestial said the soldiers had to teach them how to use a teaspoon as a measuring device for medicine.
The soldiers also realized that the residents did not recognize them as government troops.
Officials of the Department of Education (DepEd) Division of Davao del Norte together with Davao del Norte provincial engineers also conducted an ocular inspection, site visitation, and assessment for the possible establishment of a public school to educate the youth in the community.
Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert Ombos, 60th IB commander, said this discovery is both a challenge and an opportunity considering the ongoing implementation of Executive Order 70 or the whole of nation approach to end insurgency.