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Capitol drives away displaced villagers

By NITZ ARANCON, LITO RULONA and JIGGER JERUSALEM
Correspondents .

THE capitol yesterday drove off over 140 displaced villagers from the De Lara Park, an offshoot of the indigenes’ move to build shanties there.

For one year and 18 days, the capitol-owned park has been home to the Higaonon families who fled the outlying Sitio of Minkamansi, Barangay Banglay in Lagonglong town, for fear of clashes between military and communist rebel forces. The Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office said there were about 30 families from Minkamansi that camped out at the park since June 3, 2018.

Anti-riot police officers stand in line as capitol workers (above) demolish structures erected by displaced villagers from the hinterlands of Lagonglong town in Misamis Oriental, yesterday. The villagers have sought refuge at the capitol grounds since last year because of threats of clashes between soldiers and communist rebels. The displaced villagers have refused to return to their village even as they called for the withdrawal of government troops from their village. (photos by Nitz Arancon)

The evacuees, including many children, resisted when capitol workers attempted to make them board a bus.

They opted to seek refuge at the nearby United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). From there, the UCCP brought the evacuees to one of its church compounds in Biasong, Macasandig, this city.

Iglesia Filipina Independiente priest Rolando Abejo, spokesman of the Movement Against Tyranny in Northern Mindanao, said the capitol did not only demolish the shanties built by the evacuees — it also drove them away from the park.

“Nagka-ubos ang kalidad sa pangutok sa mga namunoan sa probinsiya,” he said.

Fr. Abejo said the evacuees sought UCCP’s help because they needed sanctuary.

Abejo said the evacuees were hungry because their food supplies were allegedly confiscated by capitol workers.

Abejo sharply criticized the capitol, and said what was done to the displaced Higaonon families did not speak well of Gov. Yevgeny Vincente Emano’s leadership.

He called the act “heartless” and mocked the capitol’s “Kung taga Misor ka, secure ka” slogan.

Fr. Abejo said, “Kanang ilang giingon nga kung taga Misor ka, secure ka, asa may secure diha nga wala na may katulgan kining mga lumad?”

Abejo said the displaced villagers only wanted protection from the heavy rains that have been experienced in the city in recent days and so, they erected shanties.

“Gi-abog sila. Igo lamang gisiguro sa mga lumad nga ilang kaugalingon dili mahimong alaot og masakiton panahon sa ting-ulan. Gi-usab lang nila ilang mapuy-an kay ting-ulan,” Abejo said.

The indigenous people’s advocacy group Sandugo also criticized the capitol for causing the evacuees to leave.

“Lumad evacuees built these makeshift homes to protect themselves from the extreme heat and rain. Now that these are demolished, the children will be exposed to harsh environment, especially this rainy season,” said Kerlan Fanagel, Sandugo council member in a statement.

Fanagel asked rhetorically, “Where else will our indigenous brothers and sisters go to in times of crisis?”

Jonerey Hilogon, a spokesman of the displaced villagers, said the Higaonon families would not return to Minkamansi until the government pulls out its troops there.

Rachel Hilogon, another displaced Minkamansi resident, said they were afraid to go back to their village because both military and communist rebel forces pose threats to them.

Fr. Abejo said the villagers had been wanting to discuss their situation with Emano since last year, but they were allegedly ignored.

He said the capitol’s excuse was President Duterte’s martial law declaration in Mindanao.

“Usa ka bakak nga walay mahimo ang gobernodor tungod kay martial law. Adunay katakos ang probinsiya sa pagpahawa sa military diha sa kabukiran nga maoy hinungdan sa ilang pag-bakwit,” said Abejo, citing “civilian supremacy” over the military.

Abejo also blamed the sorry state of the villagers from Minkamansi on the government’s tourism thrust. He did not give details but hinted that the deployment of troops to Minkamansi, Banglay, had something to do with a tourism project at the expense of the way of life of the indigenes.

“Nag-kampo ang military tungod sa negosyo sa turismo nga ipatuman sa maong lugar,” said Fr. Abejo, adding that soldiers were harassing villagers by tagging them as supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Datu Reynaldo Ayuman, a tribal leader, said the Higaonon families were very disappointed with Emano because he had assured them that they could stay at the De Lara Park as long as martial law in Mindanao is still in effect.

Emano, who was reported to be on leave, did not immediately a reply to Ayuman’s statement, although he was quoted as saying that the provincial government could not facilitate the evacuees’ return to Minkamansi since that decision can only be made by the military.

Over 30 structures were demolished by capitol workers while anti-riot police officers stood from a distance and watched.

Rey Dante, Barangay 27 chairman, said the evacuees violated Ordinance 9528-2005 when they built shanties at the public park.

Dante has written to Jocelyn Hilogon, one of the leaders of the Higaonon evacuees, to inform the group of the violation.

Capitol legal officer Cerilio Neil Pacana said Gov. Emano had no problems with the evacuees camping out at the capitol grounds but they shouldn’t have erected structures using bamboos, plywood, lumber, and waterproofed canvas.

Pacana said what the evacuees did was to break their agreement.

“Tungod sa inyong malinglahon nga lihok, napugos kami aron paghatag kaninyo sa duha ka oras para i-dismantle sa inyong mga gipangtukod nga istruktura diha sa parke,” Pacana told the indigenes earlier.

But the Higaonon families did not heed, prompting capitol workers to demolish the structures.

Pacana said Lagonglong Mayor Jack Puertas promised to help the displaced villagers by providing them resettlement site in Banglay but far from Minkamansi.

The proposal is to build temporary shelters there with livelihood assistance from the local government.

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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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