LIANGA, Surigao del Sur – As early as 4:00 am on September 2, Tuesday, Lumad evacuees occupying the provincial sports center in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur, together with support groups packed up, rode at least 10 trucks, and traveled more than four hours back to their communities in Sitio Han-ayan of Barangay Diatagon of this town.
Upon reaching the community, a short turnover ceremony was prepared by the Army’s 75th Infantry Battalion of the 402nd Infantry Brigade. The ceremony was participated by the local government unit of Lianga, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Church groups, civil service organizations, and about 200 Lumads.
Soldiers milled around the ceremony area while the Lumads stayed at the sides, their faces taut and reserved.
They sat silently while the program goes on.
On that day, Jose Campos, one of the leaders of the community organization Malahutayong Pakigbisog para sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), expressed his doubt if other bakwits (evacuees) could go home with the military still there.
“It is hard for me to say if they are ready to go home. What will happen if they will go home and the military are still here?” Campos said.
The ceremony ended with the signing of a “peace and development pact” in a tarpaulin with the words “Panaad sa Kalinaw ug Kalamboan”. Two tarps were set up, one for the soldiers, guests, LGUs, support groups-and one for the Lumads.
At 2:00 in the afternoon, the Army drove off boarding military trucks.
Moments later, the Lumads who stayed silent the whole duration of the program, suddenly went euphoric
and cheered: “Pangiyaki!” (shout out!).
It has been more than a year since the Lumad bakwits from Lianga fled their communities after their leaders, Datu Juvello Sinzo, Dionel Campos, and Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Development Director Emerito Samarca, were killed by members of the paramilitary group, Magahat Bagani. The Lumads sought refuge at the provincial sports complex in Tandag, Surigao del Sur.
Days before the Lumad’s return to their communities, 402nd Brigade Commander, Col. Isidro Purisima, earlier announced that they will be pulling out the soldiers “if necessary for orderly return.”
In an interview with Davao Today, Purisima said that, “the handover ceremony ended happily.”
“This shows that everyone eye for settlement of the conflict here and to the incident that happened [a year ago],” he said.
“[This is] one of the priority of the government, peaceful resolution. If there is no ceasefire, this will not happen,” Purisima said.
Purisima said that the troops of the 75th IB were already in the area to”protect the community.” of the community members, “and if they will be coming back, we will be pulling out here for them to have peace,” he said.
Purisima said that government troops will still do its mandate of protecting the communities which includes security patrols.
“We were glad that this has been resolved and hoped that the development here will push through, and for the government agencies to help our IPs (indigenous peoples),” Purisima added.
Reclaiming the community
One of the guests during the turnover ceremony of Lumad community in Lianga, did not agree in holding
“I do not agree to it because the Lumads are reclaiming their own lands,” said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan spokesperson Renato Reyes.
Reyes said that their term of “hand over, “implies that the AFP admits that they indeed occupied the community, that they took this land from its owners.”
He said the Lumads should be “commended” for their struggle to return to their communities.
Michelle Campos, eldest child of the slain community leader Dionel Campos, said she is glad they are back to their community, their “real home”.
“We are so happy,” she said. She called their return as “a victory” of their year-long struggle.
“We saw that with united action of the people, it is not impossible to achieve victory,” Michelle added.
Michelle, together with her mother, were among the second batch of hundreds of Lumads who returned to their communities in Lianga.
Ceasefire, peace talks
The ceasefire declaration, according to Col. Purisima, helped the return of the Lumads to their communities.
“It is good that there is an on going talks with the government and the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines, and I hope that it will continue,” Purisima said.
“We know that the right approach to this is peaceful settlement on the issues and concerns of the country, armed struggle is not the solution of the problem,” Purisima added.
Reyes said the ceasefire is only “a possible factor.”
The Duterte administration, according to Reyes, “created a climate that favors the return of the L
umads to their communities.”
“We met with President Duterte twice, and the Lumad’s return to their communities was one of the issues we raised,” Reyes said.
The militant leader also said that the ceasefire declaration of both parties is an “enabling condition” that helped Lumads return to their homes.
But Reyes said that “this should be done a long time ago, with or without ceasefire.” (davaotoday.com.