Lumad evacuees ready to return to Davao del Norte home | Inquirer News
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Lumad evacuees ready to return to Davao del Norte home

Soldiers agree to leave civilian facilities
/ 02:23 PM May 05, 2014

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Over 1,000 lumad evacuees from Talaingod in Davao del Norte have agreed to return home after top military officers agreed to move out government troops from barangay (village) halls and civilian facilities in 11 sitios (sub-village) of the town’s Barangay Palma Gil for the villagers’ peaceful return.

This developed as the group Defend Talaingod Save Pantaron Range Alliance launched a hotline to allow Talaingod Manobos to report abuses they may encounter upon their return.

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“We are concerned for their safety,” said Professor Aya Ragrario, of Defend Talaingod, Save Pantaron Range Alliance. “We enjoin the public to keep in touch and be aware of what is happening in Talaingod.”

The military’s pull-out was part of the government’s April 29 commitment in a dialogue that Mayor Rodrigo Duterte arranged among the evacuees, the top military officials in the Eastern Mindanao Command and Davao del Norte Governor Rodolfo del Rosario, to ensure the villagers’ safe return.

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Lieutenant Colonel Jake Obligado, chief of the civil military operations of the 10th Infantry Division, however, said the immediate clearing of troops would not mean they would be barred from going to the sitios in the future.

“That is our mandate, no one could prevent us from going there,” Obligado said after the dialogue.

The Talaingod Manobos fled their homes for fear of being caught in the crossfire as soldiers reportedly conducted aerial bombardment in March this year when fighting with the communist New People’s Army escalated. They returned to Talaingod on Saturday.

Although Duterte lauded the agreement reached among the evacuees of Talaingod, he said he would not allow soldiers to pull out of Paquibato District here, where government’s fight against the NPA has created a similar problem.

“I will not allow the pullout of government troops because that is their job– to go where the communists are,” Duterte said.

But Duterte has asked soldiers to stop the conduct of the so-called community “census,” where soldiers question residents about the members of their families, their organizational affiliations and their whereabouts. He also asked soldiers to pull out of barangay halls, daycare centers and other civilian facilities to protect civilians.

“I will ask them to stop questioning everybody, which is already scaring people in the communities,” he said, “If they want information, I’ll ask them to coordinate with barangay captains, instead.”

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In a separate dialogue with Duterte, barangay captains in Paquibato have complained how they and their people have been subjected to “census” and questioning by the military, and have been tagged either as sympathizers and members of the NPA.

Celso Bughaw, barangay captain of Lumiad, Paquibato, said he was not the only one who felt being harassed and threatened by soldiers who told him he would not get elected in the barangay without the nod from the NPA.

Aida Seira, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in the area and the Paquibato District Peasant Alliance, said people in the area have been subjected to census and threatened; and her husband, who has been working as an overseas contract worker (OFW) in Singapore, suspected to have joined the NPA because he was no longer seen around the area.

Paquibato officials have agreed to return home after Duterte assured them such questioning will no longer happen. He also ordered soldiers to move out of the barangay halls, daycare centers, schools and other civilian facilities although they are still allowed to roam outside the civilian centers.

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TAGS: 10th Infantry Division, Armed conflict, Aya Ragrario, communist rebellion, Davao City, Defend Talaingod Save Pantaron Range Alliance, Eastern Mindanao Command, Evacuation, indigenous communities, Indigenous people, Insurgency, Jake Obligado, lumad, Military, Military Occupation, New People's Army, Philippine Army, rebellion, Regions, Rodolfo del Rosario, Rodrigo Duterte, Talaingod Manobos
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