Food aid to ‘lumad’ evacuees dwindling
DAVAO CITY—Food supplies donated to help sustain almost 3,000 “lumad” (indigenous) evacuees who have been staying in improvised tents in a sports complex in Surigao del Sur province for over three months have started to dwindle, and the situation is straining the budget of the provincial government.
“They will not go home because their homes are still not safe,” Gov. Johnny Pimentel told the Inquirer by phone.
The people left their houses on Sept. 1 after members of the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani swooped down in the hinterland village of Han-ayan in Barangay Diatagon in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, and killed an educator and two of their leaders. They have since sought shelter in the sports complex in Tandag City.
The militiamen who, Pimentel said, were created, trained, funded and armed by the military—a charge that Armed Forces of the Philippines officials denied—accused the Han-ayan residents of being supporters of the communist New People’s Army.
With the looming shortage of food donations, the provincial government will be spending at least P700,000 per month on rice and canned goods, the governor said.
The people usually grow organic rice and vegetables in their upland communities. They raise free-range chickens and buy fish from ambulant vendors.
Warrants of arrest have been issued by a local court against militia leaders Garito Layno and brothers Loloy and Bobby Tejero on charges of killing Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, and lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Bello Sinzo.
Pimentel has repeatedly called on the police and the military to arrest the suspects in the Sept. 1 killings, and the disarming and disbandment of the Magahat-Bagani.
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri had earlier denied that the military was not doing anything against those linked to the killings. He said Samarca, one of the victims, was his relative.
“His father is my second cousin. If there is one person who wants peace and who wants justice for his death, that would be me,”
Iriberri said in an interview in Zamboanga City. “I am from Surigao del Sur, I was born and raised in Surigao del Sur,” he added.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines, in coordination with the Philippine National Police, continues to run after the suspects, he said.
“How can the evacuees return to their homes if these suspects freely roam the areas?” Pimentel asked. He said the Tejero brothers were frequently seen at the municipal center in Lianga.
The governor said the evacuees deferred plans to go home and chose to remain in the sports facility following the killing of a farmer-leader in San Miguel town, also in Surigao del Sur, on Nov. 12, by armed men believed to be members of the Magahat-Bagani.
The victim was identified as Orlando Rabuca, vice chair of a farmers’ group in San Miguel. Witnesses tagged one of his killers as Layno, who was also one of those alleged to be involved in the Lianga attack on Sept. 1.
Jojo Samarca, one of the victim’s children, confirmed that Iriberri is a cousin. But he said this did not spare them from harassment.
“We received death threats. My elder brother (Karl) called up informing me that there were men from the 42nd Infantry Battalion (based in Cabadbaran City) who keep on coming to our house, looking and demanding to know the whereabouts of my mother (Yosie),” he said.
He appealed to the AFP chief to tell his men to stop the harassment and to “give justice to the death of my father and all the lumad victims of extrajudicial killings.”
The young Samarca called for the withdrawal of all soldiers from lumad areas and the disbandment of all paramilitary groups in the province. “Allow them (lumad) to freely return to their respective homes,” he said.
Iriberri denied the allegations of militarization of lumad areas, particularly in Surigao.
Without any certain timetable for the return of the lumad families to their homes and for the bringing of food supplies to them, Pimentel has called on government agencies to help feed them. Hosting their stay in the capital has become a problem for the provincial government, he said. Nico Alconaba and Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao
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