Don’t use homes, schools during operations, soldiers urged
ILOILO CITY—Panay Island’s largest indigenous people’s group has called on soldiers to refrain from staying in their homes and public buildings during operations against communist rebels.
Villagers in hinterland barangays in Tapaz town in Capiz have not lived normally since soldiers began staying in multipurpose halls, primary schools and houses, said Roy Giganto, chair of the Tumandok organization.
Giganto said soldiers conducting operations have been staying from days to more than a week in the villages of Tacayan, Lahug, Aglinab, Katipunan, Acuña and Roosevelt all in Tapaz town in Capiz.
“We cannot live and work normally because we constantly fear that we might be caught in the crossfire if fighting happens between the soldiers and rebels,” Giganto said.
But the Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion (61IB) said soldiers have already refrained from staying inside the barangay since more than a month ago.
“Under a directive from our headquarters, we have advised troops not to stay in houses and public structures,” 1st Lt. Jane Danga, 61IB public information officer, told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.
Danga said the directive was issued in response to the reaction from some residents on the staying of soldiers in the barangay centers.
She said the soldiers only come to the barangays for socioeconomic projects but do not stay or sleep there.
But she said these exclude soldiers deployed in military detachments in some villages in Tapaz and the neighboring town of Calinog in Iloilo. The two towns are known traditional hotbeds of the communist insurgency.
Giganto said residents of villages where soldiers stay for days at the barangay center go home early and do not go out at night in fear of being mistaken as rebels.
The villages inhabited by the Tumandok, Panay’s biggest and oldest indigenous people’s group, are situated inside a military reservation. The indigenous people’s group has repeatedly called for the repeal of Presidential Proclamation 67, issued in 1962 by then President Diosdado Macapagal, which converted into a military reservation a 33,310-hectare area the Tumandok’s claim as their ancestral domain.
The Capiz provincial board has passed at least three resolutions supporting the repeal of the proclamation.
The reservation, which covers 16 of the 22 upland villages of Tapaz and seven villages of Jamindan, is considered the country’s biggest military camp next to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija. It is home to the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID).
The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) has recommended the creation of a tripartite body composed of a representative each from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, NCIP and the Tumandok to delineate the areas that will be titled for the Tumandok.
The 3ID has supported proposals to settle the delineation of areas within the reservation but the issue remains unresolved.