On Wednesday, Katribu, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Kabataan Party-list, women’s organization Gabriela and Mapa community leaders representing the evacuees joined together to stage a picket-rally in front of the municipal hall of Magpet and called for the immediate pull-out of all military troops in the municipality.
By DANILDA L. FUSILERO
MAGPET, Cotabato, Philippines — Indigenous peoples, militant groups and evacuees called for the immediate pull-out of military contingents conducting clearing operations against New Peoples’ Army (NPA) guerillas in the upland villages of this town as more residents were forced to leave their communities for safety.
The Manobo Aromanen Pasakaday Association (Mapa), a local formation of the Katribu Party-list this municipality, reported that some 300 families were displaced from the villages of Amabel, Bagumbayan, Doles and Noa due to clashes between the military and the NPA last November 26 and December 3.
The Mapa said that military operations started mid-November in the upland villages of Magpet. The group added that residents have reported that the military conducted around 10 mortar shellings.
On Wednesday, Katribu, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Kabataan Party-list, women’s organization Gabriela and Mapa community leaders representing the evacuees joined together to stage a picket-rally in front of the municipal hall of Magpet and called for the immediate pull-out of all military troops in the municipality.
“Ang among pagpuyo mabutang sa peligro kanunay tungod sa operation sa mga military. Dugay naman sila sigeg gukod sa mga NPA, nganong kami naman noon ang maipit ug pasanginlang NPA (Our lives are constantly put in danger because of military operations. The military has been chasing the NPA for so long, but why are we caught in the middle and accused of being NPAs),” Manobo Mercy Iyong, Mapa’s secretary general, told davaotoday.com.
Bai Norma Capuyan, third nominee of the Katribu Party-list, which has a wide IP membership in Magpet, accused the 57th infantry battalion of using intimidation and harassment to displace the Lumad (indigenous peoples) from their ancestral territories.
“Hawa namo sa mga teritoryo sa mga Lumad (Leave the Lumad territories),” Capuyan told the military. “Sobra nang na-apektuhan ang mga panginabuhian sa tribu (The livelihood of the tribes have been adversely affected),” Capuyan said.
During the picket-rally, Magpet Mayor Efren Piñol invited the rally leaders to a dialogue with Lt. Nazrullah Sema, 57th IB’s Civil Military Operations chief. In the dialogue, Capuyan demanded for the military’s immediate pull-out, the indemnification of the lost income during evacuations, and the relief assistance for all the victims and the evacuees.
Sema told Capuyan’s group that their operations are legitimate based on intelligence reports reaching their office. He suggested that the rallyists instead also call for the withdrawal of NPAs in the areas.
Sema also belied the reported harassment allegedly perpetrated by his troops, saying that they received no formal complaint from the victims themselves.
Sema and Piñol, however, committed to attend to the needs of the evacuees and facilitate their safe return to their respective communities.
Gabriela’s Narebel Berana also reported that most of the evacuees fled their homes during the most recent encounter last December 3 with nothing except for the clothes on their backs.
“Basa sa ulan ang mga tawo sa ilang pagbakwit, apil mga nagpasusong mga nanay ug mga bata (The people, including nursing mothers, were wet because it was raining when they left their homes to evacuate),” Berana said.
Before that, on November 27, a 30-minute encounter in the village of Doles prompted the evacuation of 30 families, mostly from the indigenous Manobo tribe from the village of nearby Amabel. It was then that the military allegedly detained for two hours and interrogated at gunpoint 23 residents, including women and children, in an open basketball court in Amabel. Aurelio Buhisan, 54, a Manobo resident of Doles, was hogtied for three hours after he was suspected of being an NPA commander.
During the December 3 encounter in Amabel more residents evacuated from their homes. Those from the remote villages of Noa, Bagumbayan and Doles trooped to their respective village centers for safety.
These neighboring villages are among the upland villages where the 57th IB of the Philippine Army conducted clearing operations.
In an interview with a local radio station, Sema said the 57th IB had no major casualties from their troops except for one member of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit, whom he confirmed was killed during the December 3 encounter.
Meanwhile, the Herminio Alfonso Command-Front 53 of the NPA-Southern Mindanao refuted the alleged “misinformation” spouted by Sema. In an e-mailed statement, they said that three AFP troops were killed and six others wounded during the November 26 encounter with the 10th Special Forces. The NPA statement also said that another AFP soldier of the 57th IB was killed and more wounded during their December 3 “counter-defensive ambush.”
The media release, signed by Isabel Santiago, added that “the sustained NPA tactical offensives in Magpet was meant to punish the 602nd Brigade of the 6th Infantry Division, PA for its clearing operations that left a trail of abuses against the local residents.”
NPA’s Front 53 accused the AFP of intensified operations to pave the entry of a Japanese investors Hitocho group of Companies, said to be a new investor in the expanding banana plantations in Magpet. (Danilda L. Fusilero/ davaotoday.com)