By FROILAN GALLARDO
MARIHATAG, Surigao del Sur—A fresh wave of fighting between Army soldiers and an armed group triggered a new round of evacuation in this town on Friday.
Marihatag Mayor Allan Pelenio told a Senate Committee on Justice public hearing in Tandag town that over 200 Manobo families or 1,000 persons fled their homes in Barangay Mahaba, eight kilometers from the town center.
Pelenio said he sent two trucks to fetch the residents from three sitios from Barangay Mahaba and the poblacion of Barangay Mahaba.
“There is nothing left there right now except stray dongs and untended pigs,” Barangay Mahaba councilor Alejandro Sanchez said.
Sanchez said they fled their villages after a fresh wave of fighting erupted between soldiers and armed men believed to be New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.
He said they could hear the fighting getting nearer to their houses so they decided to flee on Thursday night.
Benny Kanon, 64, however said they saw members of the Bagani terror group allegedly led by Bobby Tejero, a suspect in the Sept. 1 killing of a school director and two lumad leaders in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
Kanon said Tejero and the Bagani groups came after the soldiers arrived in their village on Thursday, and demanded that the villagers identify NPA members among them.
“We have to flee because we do not want to become their victims,” he said.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona said the National Police and the Army should arrest Tejero, his brother Loloy Abab, and Garito Layno to restore the confidence of the lumad.
“The name of Bobby Tejero is already enough to trigger a mass evacuation. They should be arrested. This is Step No. 1 to restore the confidence of the lumad,” Guingona said.
Police have filed murder charges, grave threats and arson against the suspects for the killing of Emerito Samarca, 54, Executive Director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), a school for lumads.
The police and Army have formed Task Force Bangkaw (Spear) to immediately arrest the suspects.