CITY Mayor Rodrigo Duterte refused to pull out the military troops in Paquibato District, Davao City, despite the complaints and demands of the residents in barangay Lumiad.
The mayor said this during his dialogue with the barangay residents, members of militant organizations, church leaders, and supporters of the communist groups, with Davao City Police Office (DCPO), and Philippine Army's 10th Infantry Division, at Grand Men Seng Hotel on Tuesday late afternoon.
"Dili ko musugot na ang military mupalayo. Kun sa Talaingod withdraw muna sila … pero dito ayaw ko. Nahibaw mo kung asa ang mga komunista naa jud mga sundalo. Gusto lang nako usbon kanang inyong gusto mahitabo (I will not allow the military to go away. In Talaingod, they have to withdraw for the moment, but I will not allow that here. You know that wherever the communists are, the soldiers will be there)," Duterte told the crowd.
Duterte said the military should stay where they are assigned. He added that he believes the military are there in the communities not as suppressor but to protect the public from harm or any other major incidents.
Duterte, however, clarified accusation by the military against some residents. He said he would draw the line whenever civilians are hurt amid the ongoing armed conflict between the members of New People’s Army (NPA) and the military.
"Gina-respetohan tamo tanan (I respect you all)… I’m a friend of both sides. I get your (communist group’s) point. Ang dili lang nako kaya sundon ang kining armed struggle (what I don’t believe in is your armed struggle). We cannot go on like this forever. There has to be a resumption of peace talks… whether you like it or not, we have to talk and settled things," Duterte said.
Pastor Edgar A. Ugal, of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP), said the residents complained about soldiers tagging them as members of the NPA, asking them personal questions, military encampment in some schools and barangay halls, and forcing them to surrender to the government.
Barangay Lumiad chief Celso Bughao, on the other hand, said the soldiers made a house to house campaign in three puroks of his barangay. He added that one of his barangay policeman was bodily searched and was asked to sign a waiver.
Colonel Harold N. Cabreros, commander of the Army’s 1003rd Brigade, on the other hand, said their troops were just conducting needs assessment surveys, an activity which is mandated by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).
This holds true as M/General Ariel Bernardo, commander of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, confirmed the activity. He said the questionnaires distributed to the people of Lumiad were from NEDA, adding that this will only be used in the needs assessment and not to tag people as supporters of the NPA.
"Though there were some people who admit they are supporters of the communist group, they were treated well. It’s our duty to conduct needs assessment so we would know the concerns of the people and what must be done to develop their community," Bernardo said in an interview with the media.
"Yung treatment sa kanila shouldn’t be enemy of the state. Yung pagtatanong namin is part of our objectives to develop their community. It is a needs assessment lang yun so that we could see what we can help for them to have a better community," Bernardo added.
Duterte, for his part, said it is natural for the military to ask some questions because that is part of their job as members of the government security forces, especially that there is conflict out there.
"Pero hindi ako pumayag na i-pullout sila. The army stays there. Ilang mulo gipasanginlan sila na NPA sila (Their complaint about being accused as NPAs), that can be corrected anytime. The army is there not as suppressor, but as protector of the people. I must say the army shouldn't be there in schools and barangay halls but it is okay naa sila sa area (that they are in the area)," he added.
Duterte, on the other hand, vowed to provide foods packs for the residents of Barangay Lumiad. He also said he will take care of the transportation of the people, to return safe in their area. The mayor, however, did not mention when he will give the food packs.
The mayor held the dialogue with the Paquibato residents after he also made a dialogue with Talaingod town residents about almost the same concern.