Church calls on gov’t to heed Agusan Manobos’ calls for withdrawal

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August 05 2013

Some 400 Manobos refused an order from Agusan del Sur Governor Edward Plaza to leave the capitol compound and dialog with the Philippine Army’s 26th Infantry Battalion in their villages in Loreto town.

By John Rizle Saligumba and Tyrone Velez
Davao Today

DAVAO CITY–Religious leaders stepped in Monday to resolve a standoff in negotiations between Agusan Manobo evacuees and the provincial officials of Agusan del Sur.

Some 400 Manobos refused an order from Agusan del Sur Governor Edward Plaza to leave the capitol compound and dialog with the Philippine Army’s 26th Infantry Battalion in their villages in Loreto town.

The evacuees sought refuge since Friday following intense military operations last month. They earlier demanded for the Army unit to withdraw from their villages, to which Gov. Plaza responded by saying that he has no jurisdiction over the AFP.

Bishop Delfin Callao, Jr. from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Diocese of Agusan and Surigao Islands and nuns from the Missionary Sisters of Mary sought Plaza in his residence on Monday afternoon to plead on behalf of the Manobos’ demand.

According to reports from Karapatan Southern Mindanao, the Manobo evacuees complained that the provincial crisis committee forced them on Sunday to agree to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

According to the signed MOU, a photo of which was secured by Davao Today, the evacuees should return to Loreto and conduct a ‘local peace dialogue’ with town mayors, the military and the NPA.

“Dili ta ga negotiate sa AFP og NPA. Duha ni ka armadong pwersa. Civilian lang ta! Wala tay labot sa ilang pakigbangi! (We don’t negotiate with the AFP and NPA. They are armed groups, we are civilians, we are not part of their conflict!)” said Romeo Librio, a resident of Sitio Ilang-Ilang, Brgy. San Mariano in Loreto, Agusan del Sur.

A standoff lasted until the wee hours of Monday night as Governor Plaza and Vice Governor Santi Cane talked with the Manobo leaders to board the government truck vehicles intended to transport the evacuees back to their homes.

MSM sisters and human rights activists joined the Manobos in a vigil Sunday seeking another dialogue with provincial officials.

Some 1,200 Manobos fled from villages in the town of Loreto starting July 28 because of military operations.  Some 300 Manobos first arrived at the Provincial Capitol in Prosperidad town last Friday, as another batch came Sunday night.

In a phone interview with Davao Today, Cane said it is hard now to negotiate with the Manobos. “Parang binobola kami (It seems they are fooling us).  It is hard to negotiate if they don’t respect the decision of the crisis committee. They need to have that trust in us.”

Indigenous people’s advocates criticized the provincial governor on the handling of this crisis.

In a text message, Gabriela Partylist Representative Luzviminda Ilagan, who faced similar dialogues between Lumads and military, said “the local executive can actually call for a pullout because civilian authority is superior to the military.  He can assert, if he has the political will or if he knows his powers.”

Beverly Longid, Vice-Chairperson of Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, said the governor has jurisdiction on this matter as stated by the Local Government Code.

Longid also said the provincial government “cannot force the people to go back unless they address the root cause of their displacement. It is a challenge to Plaza’s administration not to wash their hands off this crisis and face the AFP.”

Longid added that the current crisis in Loreto highlights the harassment and discrimination against indigenous peoples–an issue fitting for commemoration of the forthcoming International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on August 9.( John Rizle Saligumba and Tyrone Velez/davaotoday.com)

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