CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – A Manobo community in Santa Filomena, Quezon, Bukidnon fled their village last week after the military were coercing and threatening villagers to admit to being supporters of the New People’s Army, a claim denied by the 88th Infantry Battalion.
The villagers came from Dumasilag, Barangay Santa Filomena, reportedly left their village last December 2 and took shelter at the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in Barangay Poblacion, Kitaotao and stayed for a week.
The Manobo villagers said they fled from soldiers of the 88th Infantry Battalion patrolling their village and were coercing them to “confess” to supporting the NPA, this according to Wilboy Lay-um, spokesperson of the human rights alliance Movement Against Tyranny-Bukidnon.
Lay-um added that villagers said soldiers threatened to bomb their community if they refuse to comply.
Reports said 113 villagers, 35 of them children, were among the evacuees.
This was denied by the 88th Battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Fabic.
In a phone interview, Fabic said they had received information that certain villagers have been aiding the NPA fighters. But he denied his troops coerced the villagers.
“The information did not come from us, it came from the people there, from those who have surrendered to the government,” the military official said.
Fabic added that Dumasilag is the last area supporting the NPA.
“That’s why they (NPA) don’t want to let go of it, or else they will lose their support network in the area,” he added.
Fabic said that the presence of the 88th Battalion, through their community support team, was to help communities such as Santa Filomena to access to basic social services.
Lay-um said they had sought Bukidnon Governor Jose Maria Zubiri to intercede for the Lumad villagers, and demand the pullout of the troops. The governor however said there is nothing he could do since Mindanao is still placed under Martial Law.
“Zubiri told us it is only the President who can decide,” Lay-um added.
He said the villagers may have returned to their homes but their lives are still in danger due to the presence of the state forces.(davaotoday.com)