By JOHN RIZLE L. SALIGUMBA
LORETO, AGUSAN DEL SUR– Epimaco Malayan and Juanita Loreto had memories of nearly 20 years ago when government troops came and abused fellow Agusanon Lumads in this town.
Loreto told Davao Today, “I can never forget how soldiers forced my father to eat a map because they couldn’t find the NPAs (New People’s Army).”
“Soldiers way back in 1995 ran about the mountains to look for rebels. If they see you along the way, even if you are just tending to your carabao, they beat you,” said Malayan who was in his twenties then.
Malayan is now 47 and he joined 422 other people who fled for fear from operations launched by the Philippine Army’s 26th Infantry Battalion with the paramilitary Bagani Force in villages of Sabud, Kauswagan, Mansanitas and San Mariano.
The evacuees slept in crammed classrooms in Barangay Kauswagan Elementary School since they arrived on July 25. Some have gotten sick with cough and fever.
Not only were villagers crammed in the school, they also brought their livestock, from pigs to chickens.
Malayan said the villagers were afraid they will suffer from the same fate as that of the four youths who were “tortured” last week by the soldiers and paramilitary.
“Basin kami madelikado mao nianhi mi diri kay para naay makakita sa amo,(Our lives might be in danger, that’s why we came here so people can see us),” said Malayan, who said the four youths came from his village of Sabud.
“Nasakit jud mi ana kay paryente tong isa sa akong asawa. Nahadlok na mi kay kung gibuhat to sa ila, unsaon pa kaha kung makasulod na sila, (We were really hurt since one of the youths was my wife’s relative. We were scared that if the soldiers had done that to them, what more things would they do once they enter our villages?)” said Malayan.
Loreto said troops from the 26th Battalion arrived in their village on Saturday, July 24, to look for NPAs.
“They said they are here to keep the people secure as they will conduct a full operation in the mountains. But the people got scared and the news spread quickly which prompted the evacuation of those in the inner villages,” Loreto said.
Malayan said the paramilitary ‘Bagani Force’ guides accompanied the troops. The Bagani Force were said to be “goons” of Loreto Mayor Dario Utasa.
Soldiers reportedly arrived at the school vicinity on Monday morning. They took profile pictures of the villagers. The military operation has disrupted the classes of a local pre-school.
Loreto said prior to the military operation, the Bagani members had been going around the community forcing them to sign a “tie-up” agreement with a company to build a plantation for tuba-tuba (jathropa) and biograss.
“We refused their demand for us to ask to sign a blank paper that would sell-off our land to the company,” she said.
Loreto also said a mining firm was also interested in exploring materials for marbles.
Local officials and the municipal social welfare have pledged food assistance to the villagers. But villagers said they are hoping for officials to heed their demand for soldiers and paramilitary to pull out from the villages. (John Rizle L. Saligumba/ davaotoday.com)agusan, Agusan del Sur, Human Rights, Loreto, militarization