Davao Today

Tagum City, Davao del Norte –The municipality of Loreto, Agusan del Sur was placed by its local government unit under state of calamity after nearly a thousand Agusanon lumads staged a two-day exodus to the provincial capitol in Prosperidad to protest militarization in their villages.

Tribal and barangay leaders of the Agusanons met Agusan del Sur Governor Adolph Edward Plaza on Friday night, and demanded the pullout of troops belonging to the Philippine Army’s 26th Infantry Battalion from their villages.

Accompanied by religious leaders and rights advocates, the Lumads complained they would hear continuous gunfire in the mountains, and soldiers camping in their communities during their operations against communist guerillas.

“Sundon lang unta ang tinuod nga balaod. Sila naay kalaban, tapos didto sila mismo sa komunidad nagapondo. Magpalayo lang unta sila kay kami ang mapagan,(They should follow the law. They have enemies yet they stay in the communities. They should leave so we won’t get caught.)” said Ricky Lope, Sitio Leader of Mampait, Barangay Sabud.

The Agusanons endured a grueling two-day travel circuiting two provinces. Starting Thursday, they walked four hours from their evacuation center in Barangay Kauswagan, Loreto, Agusan del Sur, crossed a river to reach the neighboring Laak, Compostela Valley. Then they took a bus that brought them to Tagum City in Davao del Norte at night. Friday morning they traveled to Prosperidad and held a camp-in until provincial officials responded.

The Agusanons took this circuitous route to steer clear of the military.

As of this writing, provincial officials advised the Agusanons to go back and camp in Loreto gym, where they said relief and support are now prepared for them.

The exodus
The flight of the Agusanons began July 27 with 423 people seeking refuge in Kauswagan Elementary School. But the number swelled to nearly a thousand from Brgys. Sabud, Kauswagan and San Mariano as residents heard gunshots growing everyday in the mountains.

The 26th Infantry Battalion, guided by paramilitary Bagani Force began operations in the middle of July. They arrested four Agusanon youths, including two minors who were ‘tortured’.

The community leaders decided on Wednesday to go to Prosperidad and asked for help, as aid promised by the municipal social welfare failed to arrive.

At 4 in the morning the next day, the camp was already up with people packing up, fetching water and preparing food.

By 8am the evacuees grouped by sitios to easily secure themselves. But the vehicles arranged by human rights groups responding to them did not arrive, as it was reportedly blocked by the military.

This left the Agusanons no choice but to walk all the way to Laak in hopes of finding transportation there.

Datu Buwasawan, the Agusanon’s tribal chieftain, said he was worried about the bataan (women with children), as there are around 300 children including infants in the group.

“Men may have the strength but there are too many children, we should decide to leave them or bring them,” he said.

After walking for an hour, the Lumads crossed a knee-deep river which is the boundary between the province of Agusan del Sur and Compostela Valley.

The evacuees were surprised when they came across a few men in military uniform who immediately hid behind a purok (village waiting shed) upon seeing them.

“Karon nahadlok sila kay nangisog ta. Nagpadayag ra man ta sa tinuod (They’re scared now because we stood up an told the truth),” said Datu Buwasawan.

Upon reaching Laak they indeed negotiated with habal-habal (motorcycle) drivers to carry the children first to the terminal. On arriving at the terminal, they negotiated for three buses that brought them to Tagum City.

Their travel was stopped by four military checkpoints in which some of these were set up before their buses arrived, according to a resident near one of these checkpoints. (John Rizle L. Saligumba/ davaotoday)

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