By CHERYLL D. FIEL
DAVAO CITY– Soldiers held for three hours yesterday a fact finding team in a remote village in Talaingod, a town 89 kilometers from Davao City.
Twenty members of lumad support groups, including a Davao Today reporter, went inside Talaingod�s sitio Dulyan in barangay Palma Gil to verify reports that soldiers have been occupying some houses in the village, a violation of the International Humanitarian Law that bans soldiers from civilian areas.
But the group, who arrived in the village in time for the September 15 Bwalawan thanksgiving festival, was already about to leave when soldiers refused to let their six hired habal-habal (motorcycles) drivers go. The soldiers insisted that the drivers could not travel because they had no license. The motorcycles were supposed to take the participants to Talaingod�s Sto. Nino village, where they could take the ride back to Davao City.
Kerlan Fanagel (left), secretary-general of Pasaka texts his colleagues in Davao City after 60th Infantry Battalion soldiers refuse to let go of their hired habal-habal drivers. (davaotoday.com photo)
Aside from delaying their trip, the soldiers took the names of the drivers and the plate numbers of their motorcycles. They also forced the participants to sign a logbook to identify themselves.
Kerlan Fanagel, secretary-general of the lumad group Pasaka, said the group was concerned over the soldier�s presence, which created a climate of fear among residents in the area. He also said that soldiers had tagged as �fake� the three-year-old lumad school, which has enrolled 92 children in grades one, two and three this year. They also branded the teachers and nurse working there as �Communists� to discourage them from offering their services to the community which has scarcely been reached by government.
Residents said soldiers arrived in the area on August 15, apparently in pursuit of Communist guerillas. A house owner who had spent the night in another farm said he came home in the morning to find his house already occupied by soldiers, forcing him to seek refuge in the house of his in-laws.
Fanagel said soldiers have been posting in at least two houses in the village. Soldiers also urged residents to patrol the whole place at night, just as the military actively recruit civilians in surrounding areas to the Barangay Defense System and the lumad baganis (warriors) as part of the government�s counterinsurgency program.
Lt. Dennis Ayungo, team leader of the military unit occupying the Dulyan community in Talaingod asked the Lumad residents why they did not let the fact-finding team sign the barangay logbook as part of the barangay policy. The logbook turned out to be owned by the military. (davaotoday.com photo)
Soldiers also told villagers they were conducting a �census� of people in the area. They said they could tell if Communists are around because the number of people in the area will increase. Fanagel also said the military is also recruiting villagers to the Civilian Auxiliary Forces Geographic Unit (Cafgu) and urging them to form the �Barangay Defense System or BDS.�
But Lt. Dennis Ayungo, the team leader of soldiers in the area, told RMN in a radio interview the soldiers were �glad� over the group�s visit.
�Bakit naman iho-hold namin sila? (Why would we hold them?),� Lt. Ayungo told RMN-Davao. �Masaya nga kami na bumisita sila para naman makita ng mga lumad ano ang itsura ng mga tiga-syudad, We are even happy that they visited the place so that the lumads can finally see how people from the city look like).
Aside from Pasaka, other groups who joined in the fact-finding activity included the Solidarity Action Group for Indigenous Peoples (Sagip), Kabiba Children�s Rehabilitation Center, Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas, Kadumahan, United Church of Christ in the Philippines-North Davao District Conference (UCCP-NDDC), and the lumad group Kalumaran.
Lumad leaders became �uncomfortable� when Ayungo of the 60th Infantry Battalion joined the consultation that the fact finding team arranged with the lumads after lunch time.
The yearly Bwalahan festival started three years ago when the lumad group Salugpungan Ta� Tanu Igkanogan established the lumad school in Sitio Dulyan. The group also came about in the late 90s as an offshoot of the Ata-Manobo communities resistance against the expansion of Alcantara and Sons logging company that encroached into their ancestral land.
Bwalahan marks the thanksgiving of lumads for the harvest.
It is also a ritual intended to strengthen the resolve of the community to continue the school which villagers put up. The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) has been supporting some of the 92 children enrolled in the school. (Cheryll D. Fiel with reports from Grace Uddin/davaotoday.com)