MANILA, Philippines – Internal refugees from areas in Caraga and Northern Mindanao allegedly caught in military combat operations are calling on President Benigno Aquino III to put a halt to military offensives in the area and help claim their ancestral land.
In an interview with INQUIRER.net on Monday, Genasque Enriquez, Secretary General of Kahugpong sa Lumadnong Organisasyon (KASALO) urged Aquino to listen to the lumad (indigenous people) groups’ cry for an end to the military operations in Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Norte and Bukidnon.
More than 200 families were displaced from their homes in Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Norte, frightened away by the military, said Enriquez. Some 140 left their homes in Surigao del Norte last March 23 and 102 left their houses in Agusan del Norte last March 5.
“Takot ang mga katutubo (the natives are frightened),” he explained, pointing to 22-year-old internal refugee Balodoy Inano whom he said had been shot by a soldier while gathering kindling last March 23 in Sitio Omao of Camam-onan village, Gigaquit town, Surigao del Norte.
After Inano was shot in the chest and fell to the ground, he was approached by a soldier who apologized and gave him two paracetamol tablets, according to Enriquez.
The soldier said that he thought Inano was an NPA rebel and told him not to tell that it was a soldier who shot him or he would be finished off.
“If Aquino is true to his ‘Kayo ang boss ko (you’re [the Filipino people] my boss)’ slogan and the indigenous people are also his boss, I hope the President will soon look into their predicament,” he said.
The KASALO secretary general said evacuees from the three provinces have seen how military presence in their land became a ruse in protecting mining companies.
“Evidently, the clearing operations of the military provided security for mining companies,” Enriquez said.
He said the Taganito Mining Corporation in Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte is being expanded. Another company, the San Roque Metals Incorporated, launched its mining activities in Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte and other mining companies went full-blast operations in Cabadbaran City in Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur.
Those displaced desperately need food, clothing, water and medicine, according to Enriquez. Children were particularly vulnerable to colds and diarrhea, he added.
He said that those in Gigaquit town have moved to a small parcel of land near a river and were huddling underneath makeshift tents and banana leaves.
“In behalf of those displaced, we demand the withdrawal of the military forces from the community. Stop the indiscriminate firing, bombing and shelling. Hopefully, the government would provide indemnification of indigenous people.”
A group of representatives from the displaced groups are in Manila until May 2 to meet and appeal to government officials as well as the diplomatic community about their predicament. They have already met with Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, Human Rights Commissioner Jose Mamawag and Representative Teddy Brawner Baguilat Jr., chairman of the House Committee on National Cultural Communities.