KAPALONG, Davao Del Norte – Saying their lives are in imminent danger, a local indigenous people’s organization on Thursday said they are calling on authorities to stop military operations in some villages in their town.
In a statement, the tribal organization, Karadyawan said “the military are using our communities as shields, they are occupying our churches and schools, accusing and forcing some of us to surrender including some of our young children being forced by them to be their guides on their pursuit against NPAs [New People’s Army]”.
Lito Sampag, spokesperson of Karadyawan. said they would leave their homes in protest “if the military will not cease from using the civilians as shields”.
Col. Harold Cabreros, commander of the Army’s 1003rd Brigade, in a phone interview Thursday, denied that military troops are using human shields to run after the NPA guerrillas in Kapalong areas.
“We strongly deny their allegations that we are using civilians as human shields. It’s their usual issue hurled against us. Actually, they are the ones who are mingling with the armed groups in case there are legitimate encounters with the rebels in the areas. The military do not tolerate such act. They [NPA rebels] are the ones doing that,” Cabreros said.
When asked to comment on the accusation of Karadyawan that it was troops of the 60th IB and 68th IB who killed Wilfredo Estrebillo, a motorcycle driver, last June 4 in Barangay Mabantao in Kapalong town, Cabreros said: “I just learned it now and I will ask further information from my battalion commander on the field as there is an ongoing investigation already by police authorities”.
Cabreros added that those demanding military pullout “is only a minority of the entire Lumad populace in the affected areas”, adding that “these minority groups are being exploited by the leftist groups for their propaganda”.
Cabreros said that based on their assessment, only the sitios of Ngan, Aminipat and Kapatagan in Barangay Gupitan.are affected by the armed encounters.
“These are areas where military troops are active in conducting the peace and development outreach program in various communities. Unfortunately, spoilers are again on the rise to discredit our efforts to maintain peace in those areas,” he said.
Cabreros added that they are coordinating with the local government of Kapalong and presently “providing the needs of the Lumads in the affected areas”.
Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region vows to “address the complaints of the poor people like farmers and Lumads.”
“We will not rely on the filing of legal cases alone. The courageous protest of the people is more effective based on our experience because many of our government instrumentalities and offices are futile in acting these issues of violations,” said Hanimay Suazo, spokesperson of Karapatan-SMR. (davaotoday.com)