By Erwin Mascariñas
LANUZA, Surigao del Sur – Some 180 families from two hinterland indigenous people’s communities were displaced after a clash between alleged New People’s Army rebels and soldiers broke out near the villages.
Data from the Municipal Social Welfare and Development showed 125 families or 570 individuals from Sitio Ibuan, Barangay Mampi and 55 families or 242 individuals from Sitio Himatagan of Barangay Agsam were displaced and sought refuge at a community gymnasium in Barangay Agsam in Lanuza town.
“The evacuees started arriving here in the gymnasium at around 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Initially, there were only 20 families but the number gradually increased over the past few hours. We immediately provided them with food. All of them walked for several hours,” said Lolita Cidro, municipal social welfare and camp management officer.
Cidro said the local government, through its health office, National Police and other government agencies, have been providing aid.
Village councilor Romanito Badiang, a 41-year old Manobo farmer and father of five children, said it was the first time for them to be displaced as a result of the armed conflict.
“A similar incident happened in the past, in the ’80s, but we never sought refuge elsewhere. We were forced to leave our homes now after the NPA and the Army started fighting in our community. The Army has been in our village for several days now, and then the NPA made a move, and that’s when the clash started,” said Badiang.
The Army’s 402nd Brigade said the villagers from Sitio Ibuan, in Barangay Mampi, Lanuza town fled at around 12:20 pm because rebels from the NPA’s Guerrilla Front Committee under the North Eastern Mindanao Regional Ccommand harassed and threatened them.
Allegedly, the NPA threatened nine families, according to barangay chairman Allan Juagno.
“Threatening the lumad is a desperate move of the NPA. They are depriving the lumad of a peaceful community,” said Brig. Gen. Franco Nemecio Gacal, commander of the 402nd Brigade released on on Wednesday.
Some of the evacuees in the gymnasium said soldiers had been in their village since Feb. 15, 2018 for a “community development initiative.”
Manobo tribal chieftain Cherlito Juagpao, indigenous people’s mandatory representative, gave this account: “At around 10 o’clock in the morning, we heard gunfire coming from the other side of the village. Although we did not see who fired, we believe that it was the NPA, and then the soldiers in the village responded and fired back. This sent people running in fear for their lives. The soldiers had been in our village since Feb. 14.”
He said soldiers were “interviewing people, conducting census.”
“The NPA never harassed our village before, and we hope that they will respect our community and leave us in peace,” said Juagpao.