DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Lumad leaders in Surigao del Sur scoffed at the military for their “outright lies and cover-up.”
In a phone interview with Davao Today, Sarry Campos, spokesperson of Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang Sumusunod (MAPASU) said “(T)he military is inconsistent with their statements. At first, they accused us of being NPA members. Now they are saying that we evacuated because we want the NPA back in our communities.”
The military’s Eastern Mindanao Command (EMC) refuted claims that their troops have been harassing Lumad communities San Agustin and Lianga towns in Surigao del Sur that resulted in the evacuation of 16,000 Lumad residents.
In a press conference on Wednesday, EMC spokesperson Major Ezra Balagtey said they only conducted a patrol base operation in Diatagon “to protect the entry of government services in Lianga.”
He also slammed the evacuation as “an orchestrated effort of the members of Sanga sa Partido sa Lokalidad to facilitate the re-entry of New People’s Army in the area.”
Campos said soldiers of the 75th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army has set up camp in Kilometer 9 Sitio Simowao, Barangay Diatagon in Lianga town, despite stiff opposition.
He said even before the installation of a military camp, residents have already seen soldiers in their area conducting patrol operations.
He said the military’s 401st Brigade admitted to them during an earlier dialogue that they are planning to put up a military camp in Sitio Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, to “suppress our strong opposition against the entry of mining companies in the Andap Valley Complex.”
MAPASU told members of the Surigao del Sur Provincial Government and the 75th IB officials last July 12 that they plan to evacuate to protect themselves from state forces.
The military’s Balagtey questioned why media covered on the day of the evacuation, and that they received a report that published media photos were actually old and taken in 2015.
Capt. Jerry Lamosao, the spokesperson of the 10th Infantry Division, also said that the evacuation was a result of false information disseminated by some militant groups that caused the indigenous people in the area to panic.
“They were made to believe that the soldiers are doing a crime, harassment, abuse to women and to take away their ancestral land,” said Lamosao.
To this, MAPASU’s Campos said “The truth is we are afraid because of what we experienced in the past. This is the reason why we have fled from our communities.”
In October 2014, rights groups have documented the mass evacuation of 378 families with 1,783 residents in Lianga, San Agustin, and Tago, Surigao del Sur after cases of violation of domicile and indiscriminate firing were documented.
The forcible evacuation occurred after military troops from the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Battalion, 36th IB PA and 401st Brigade, Philippine Army launched military operation in the mountain areas of San Lorenzo, Prosperidad, Agusan Sur; Lianga and San Miguel in Surigao del Sur.
In September 2015, over 2,700 indigenous peoples (IPs) or Lumad fled their homes following the massacre of their leaders Emerito Samarca, 54, Executive Director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev); Dionel Campos, MAPASU chairman and Datu Juvello Sinzo by paramilitary elements Magahat-Bagani Force.
Evacuees came from more than 20 Lumad communities in Surigao del Sur including Barangay Bolhoon in San Miguel town, Barangay Lianga of San Agustin town and the town of Tago.
In July 2017, 2,043 men, women and children stayed at the school grounds and classrooms of the Simowao Tribal Community School, located about 9 kilometers from the national highway and Poblacion of Brgy. Diatagon after military elements in full combat gear conducted operations in nine (9) communities in the mountain areas of Lianga, San Miguel and San Agustin in Surigao del Sur. (davaotoday.com)