DESPITE the growing number of displaced lumad (indigenous people) in Mindanao, the province of Surigao del Sur has recently been declared as a "conflict manageable area" and "ready for further development" by the provincial government.
A memorandum of agreement (MOA) declaring the province as “conflict-manageable” was signed by Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel, Colonel Isidro Purisima, commander of the 402nd Infantry Brigade, and Police Superintendent Romaldo Bayting, Provincial Police Director on Tuesday at Villa Maria Luisa Hotel, Tandag City.
The MOA was a "result of the rigid efforts of the military, police, local government units, and stakeholders" to address the insurgency in the province.
The military said in a statement that from 2015 up to the present, it recorded an increase of New People's Army (NPA) rebels who surrendered and its supporters denouncing their allegiance to the revolutionary group.
Also, the number of NPA-initiated violent activities (Nivi) dramatically decreased to 49 percent, which is the lowest ever recorded for the last five years.
The increase of rebel surrendering, the statement read, is a result of the successful entry of basic services in conflict-affected areas through Oplan Bayanihan while the decrease of Nivi was said to be due to successful military operations in the province.
Purisima said the progress is a clear manifestation that the government is winning peace than urging other rebels to surrender.
"I urge the remaining NPA rebels to surrender and join their former comrades in availing benefits and start a new and progressive life in the mainstream society," he said.
For her part, Eliza Pangilinan, secretary general of Karapatan-Caraga, a non-government organization (NGO), said she was disgusted with the declaration.
Pangilinan said the declaration is too far-fetched especially with the presence of the 2,000 lumad evacuees seeking refuge in Tandag City.
"How can they say na conflict-manageable na ang Surigao del Sur? When in fact, wala pa, bisan isa, sa mga identified suspects and nadakpan sa lumad leaders murder last September 1, 2015 bisag naa nay warrant of arrest issued?" Pangilinan said.
"Wala pa gayud intawon nakab-ot ang hustisya, layo pa," she said.
Instead of focusing on the capture of suspects Bobby Tejero, Loloy Tejero, and Garito Layno, the military poured their efforts in deploying more soldiers in the area, which she said was not ideal given the escalating tension.
"Giunsa nila pag-measure sa pagka-conflict manageable niini kung aduna gihapon harassment ug pagpanghasi batok sa katawhang lumad na ginabuhat sa military," she said.
Until the military owns up that they are backing up paramilitary groups, she said the conflict is and will not be manageable.
Pangilinan, however, has a "wild guess" why the military think that the province is ready for further development.
"Siguro development kay nahawanan na man ang yutang kabilin sa mga lumad tungod sa ilang pagbakwit, ug sa paghawan niini, aduna nay dakong luna ang big mining corporations na nakasulod na gina-ingon nila ug development," Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan added that achieving peace in the province would remain a dream until the lumad evacuees return to their homes.