LIANGA, Surigao del Sur — The established pattern of military atrocities in several villages in this province sent the Manobo folk packing up to leave this year, even at the mere sight of soldiers.
Karapatan-Caraga said that on June 10, some 70 soldiers of the 58th IB came and lived in a number of Lumad houses as well as in the forested boundaries in sitio Upper Oregon, St. Christine village, Lianga.
The soldiers this time came with the Task Force Gantangan-Bagani Force (TFG), a paramilitary group of Lumads organized by the military and led by Marcos Vocales to help fight the NPA. On June 12, the soldiers and the TFG gathered the people. Karapatan-Caraga said Vocales threatened the Lumad folk as he tried to recruit TFG members, saying they should “legitimize” themselves and help fight the NPA. He threatened that if any soldier was killed in an encounter with the NPA, a community member will be killed in return.
The soldiers and TFG officers told the people that a finding of their “Research Team for Peace and Development” identified projects in the area and that they would be staying for two months.
Threatened by the soldiers, the TFG and the occasional volleys of fire in their vicinity, the sitio folk of Upper Oregon started, on June 17, the 16-kilometer trek down to the Lianga Municipal Gym where they stayed until the hundreds of other evacuees began arriving in July.
Karapatan-Caraga said the soldiers began arriving in the communities of barangay Diatagon from July 10 to 13 and began putting up hammocks in or near civilians’ houses. In Han-ayan, soldiers put up a watch post 50 meters across Alcadev and began monitoring the school clinic with binoculars and a camera. The soldiers took pictures of the staff and students.
The soldiers also distributed to the students brochures of the Office of the President on the Peace Process (OPAP), which exhort people to surrender and “turn in their guns” or “guns of the NPA rebels.” The brochure was complete with a “price list” showing the monetary equivalent of each kind of gun.
The Lumad group Mapasu likened the TFG-Bagani Force to the Lumadnong Pagkigbisog sa Karaga or Lupaka, which was organized by the 401st Infantry Brigade in 1994. Lupaka was later involved in banditry, kidnap-for-ransom, extortion and killings. Worse, the communities from where its members came from ended up divided and engaged in tribal fights.
“Stop turning Lumads against each other!” Mapasu demanded. A Mapasu leader said the military is either offering them guns to fight other armed groups, or forcing them to surrender their supposed guns. “We Lumads have been living in peace. We don’t have guns and we don’t need one,” he said.
On July 18, at 7 a.m., the 14 communities started a 12-hour trek down to Lianga, bringing all their belongings, dragging all their farm animals. They arrived at the municipal gym at 6:30 p.m., and joined those who had evacuated earlier.
“The insistence of the soldiers that the community members surrender because they were NPA supporters; their allegations that their organization Mapasu, their school Alcadev and the program they work with, TRIFPSS, were communist fronts; the proximity of the armed soldiers to their homes and TFG–BF — this campaign was ostensibly being conducted with them as targets,” said Karapatan-Caraga in a fact sheet.
On top of these, the people were getting hungry because “it was getting difficult and expensive to bring in food to the community” due to restrictions at the army checkpoint.
On Aug. 4, as the situation at the Tandag evacuation center worsens, Karapatan-Caraga reported that 129 Manobo and Mamanwa families have also evacuated from their homes in Pantukan village, Carrascal town. The Lumad evacuees said they feared for their lives when they heard gunshots. They complained of the prolonged stay of 32 soldiers of the 58th IB who arrived on June 22 and occupied the village gym, waiting shed and daycare center.