DAVAO CITY – Over a thousand Manobo Lumads from the interior villages of Talaingod town in Davao del Norte have evacuated their homes April 1 after Army troops allegedly “occupied their villages and conducted aerial bombing.”

Datu Doloman Dawsay, spokesperson of the Manobo organization Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanugon (Unite to defend the land) said that military operations of 68th Infantry Battalion, 60th IB and 4th Special Forces displaced 1,353 individuals comprising 309 families from the sitios of Pongpong, Nalubas, Bagang, Bayabas, Saso, Lasakan, Sambolongan and Bugni of Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

In a statement, Dawsay said that the residents “fled discreetly, while the military soldiers were sleeping.”

Dawsay said evacuees, mostly women, children and elderly, are now in Sitio Nasilaban, one of the lower village centers in Talaingod.

He said government troops have “encamped in the houses and school buildings located in the interior areas” since the troops have arrived last March 4.

“Aerial bombings were conducted by the military on March 20,” he added.

“Residents said some houses were put on fire because they said it belongs to NPA,” said Dawsay.

“The military has threatened the whole village that should one of the troops die from the hands of the NPA, they’ll kill five of the residents,” Dawsay said.

He also lamented that “the developments they have seen in our villages such as hose for water system, school buildings and even our community corn mill were wrongly attributed to the NPA.”

Datu Gumbil Mansimuy-at, also a Salugpongan leader, said that residents of Sitio Nalubas and Sitio Bagang are now “starving.”

He said that they “had nothing to eat for days because” they “were prevented from going back to their farm to look for food.”

According to Dawsay, many residents went to Sitio Nasilaban but some “went as far as Bukidnon just to look for food. Others opted to hide in the forests of the Pantaron Range to avoid the military.”

Mansimuy-at said that it “was not that easy for us when we left because we have to leave at night discreetly.”

“We were really afraid that the military who were sleeping might wake up and then arrest or even kill us. (B)ut we had no choice, we will die of hunger if we stay,” Mansimuy-at said.

The Army’s 10th Infantry Division said in an earlier statement that they would have the incidents “investigated.”

The Manobos of Talaingod established the Salugpungan in 1993 in the middle of their struggle against logging company C. Alcantara and Sons Inc (CASI, formerly Alsons).

CASI secured a 25-year Industrial Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) with the Department of Environment and natural Resources (DENR) to develop 20,000 hectares of its former forest concession into an industrial tree plantation-enabling CASI to facilitate forest renewal and ensure a continuous supply of wood resources.

The Manobo’s fight was led by their chieftain Datu Guibang Apoga who, along with 25 other datus, declared a “pangayaw (tribal war)” against CASI.

They were charged with murder in 1997 for the alleged killing of CASI’s guards, whom they attacked as a “warning.”

Dawsay noted that their successful opposition to CASI’s IFMA  decades ago and “their continuing fight against corporate mining in Pantaron Range prompted the military to intensify their operation in the area.”

Isidro Indao, spokesperson of PASAKA (lumad confederation), “(t)he brutal and systematic attack in Talaingod violates international instruments protecting IP (indigenous peoples) rights.”

“We urge the concerned government agencies to immediately probe deeper into this, prosecute the perpetrators, indemnify and bring justice to the victims,” Pasaka said.

Meanwhile, Dawsay said they “strongly demand to the President, concerned government agencies to immediately pull out the butchers, these military elements, from our ancestral lands.”

“Respect the peace in our communities, as we continue with the development of our community-based schools and communal farms, in exercise of our self-determination as lumads,” added Dawsay. (davaotoday.com)

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