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‘Lumad’ ordeal not over despite military promise

FEAR OF SOLDIERS Manobo evacuees walk to Tandag City in search of food and safety after fleeing their communities in Lianga town, Surigao del Sur province, for fear of increasing military presence.—CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

SAN AGUSTIN, Surigao del Sur — “Lumad” who fled their homes in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, for fear of increasing military presence were still afraid to return to their communities even after military officials promised to remove a detachment in the lumad area and Church groups vouched for the soldiers’ sincerity.

Sarry Campos, secretary general of the lumad group Mapasu, said lumad were still hesitant because the village council resolution that allowed the military to set up a detachment had not been revoked and could still be in effect.

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Campos said that although his group had signed an agreement with the military for the removal of the detachment, no military official had signed the document.

Trucks waiting

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As of late afternoon on Tuesday, trucks sent by the Surigao del Sur provincial government to bring the evacuees home in Lianga and San Agustin villages were on standby in the village of Buhisan.

Fr. Richel Navarro, of Iglesia Filipina Independiente  who is helping the lumad, said he and other volunteers had to check the communities first before lumad were allowed to return.

After the volunteers checked the area, evacuees, however, were still reluctant to go home.

Campos said that although there was no more soldier and the detachment had been dismantled, “we are still hesitant about going home.”

He said lumad would not return home as long as the council resolution allowing soldiers to build a detachment remained in effect.

Lt. Col. Jaime Datuin, head of the 75th Infantry Battalion, had agreed to dismantle the detachment at the village of Simuwao, which triggered the July 16 evacuation of lumad from nine communities.

Military assurance

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Datuin gave assurance that the detachment would be removed during a dialogue on Monday in the village of Buhisan in San Agustin town, Surigao del Sur, with lumad who were stopped by soldiers as they walked toward Tandag City.

Lumad were headed to Tandag City to seek refuge, as food was running out in their evacuation site in Diatagon village in Lianga town, where they had been staying in the last 16 days.

The evacuees complained that food intended for them had to pass through a command post before reaching them.

But as lumad reached this town, policemen and soldiers blocked their way, prompting local officials, Church leaders, military and police officials to initiate a dialogue.

Keep off

Navarro said evacuees demanded the removal of military detachments and for soldiers to stay away from their communities.

Datuin said there would be no more detachments or regular patrols but only mobile checkpoints.

Datuin added that soldiers were prohibited from entering the lumad’s homes “and if one of my men violated my order, they can report directly to me.”

But Datuin said his soldiers never harassed lumad and it was the troopers’ duty to enter the lumad community if armed men were seen there.

A statement from the lumad group Mapasu said villagers feared the presence of soldiers from the 75th Infantry Battalion, led by a certain Captain Borromeo.

The military unit set up a detachment for counterinsurgency operations in lumad communities.

The military tagged the evacuees’ villages as part of Andap Valley Complex, an area where communist rebels operated.

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TAGS: AFP, lumad, MAPASU, Mindanao indigenous people, Richel Navarro, Sarry Campos
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