Barely a month after the Manobos went back to their homes in Lianga, the soldiers are back again, recruiting them to the Task Force Gantangan, a paramilitary group to fight the government’s war against the insurgents.
By CHERYLL D. FIEL
DAVAO CITY — After one month and 13 days at the evacuation camp, the Manobo evacuees finally went home to Lianga on August 30. Aboard a convoy of 40 trucks to barangay Diatagon, the Lumads left the grounds of the Diocese of Tandag that served as their evacuation camp.
But barely a month after coming home, the soldiers are back again, recruiting them to the Task Force Gantangan, a paramilitary group to fight the government’s war against the insurgents.
Genasque Enriquez, the secretary-general of the Caraga Lumad group Kasalo, said that the 58th IB did not even spare women, recruiting them as secretaries and intelligence agents for the Task Force Gantangan.
Earlier in July, the Lumads of Lianga fled their homes and refused to go back as long as the military men were still in their villages.
Calling for the pull-out of military troops, the Lumad evacuees later caught the attention of the Commission on Human Rights Chair Leila De Lima, who along with Bayan Muna partylist representatives took the trip to Lianga to hear their pleas.
Finally, on August 29, after more than a month of negotiations, the military agreed to pull out the troops.
Although, 401st Infantry Battalion commander Colonel Danny Fabian, said the military merely “cleared” their troops out of the 15 communities; and that it was “not tantamount to a pullout,” the move allowed the Lumads to go home.
On their way there at the end of August, children could not wait to come down the truck and hopped on for a bathe in the river as soon as they arrived. But many people were dismayed to find some of their belongings in disarray, and things, such as pots and kettles, lost.
To the shock of the teachers and students, someone left a note on the Alcadev and Trifpss school blackboards, which read: “Sa mga NPA, CPP, NDF. Ginawa lang kayong capital at sa murang isip ginamit. Wag kayong matakot sa AFP. Nandito ang AFP dahil sa kalinaw og paglambo. Kasama ninyo ang goberno. Tigilan na natin ang digma-an. Magkaisa na Tayo. Para sa kinabukasan nating lahat. (To the NPA, CPP, NDF. You are being used at a tender age. Do not be afraid of the AFP. The AFP is here for peace and development. The government is with you. We should stop the war. We should unite for our future.)
Volunteers who accompanied the evacuees home stayed on to join the harvest the next day but were disappointed to see some corn fields and vegetable plots choked up by grasses. The Manobos had looked forward to a good harvest before they fled their villages more than a month before, leaving their crops unattended.
Despite all these, the Lumads were just glad to be home. At the evacuation camp, life was a torment. Over 1,700 evacuees—including women, elderly and children—were crammed within a 500 square meter ground, sleeping only on flattened carton boxes and plywood scraps.
At the evacuation center, they only had makeshift tents to protect them from the rain. Sanitation was not good. There was only one faucet supplying water on certain hours of the day.
Food was sorely lacking. At least 18 sacks of rice were needed per day to feed all of them, so that oftentimes, they had to help themselves with porridge for a meal.
Nine hundred forty eight (948) in the evacuation camp were children. Of the eighteen women who were pregnant, four gave birth during the evacuation.
Being forced to leave their homes was a thing the Lumads did not ask for. The Diatagon Lumads did not just sit around the evacuation camp waiting to be saved. They stood up and fought for their rights.
Teachers and students of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), the school whose classes were temporarily stopped due to the arrival of soldiers, became instant spokespersons of the evacuees.
They also helped in the upkeep of the evacuation camp, administering food distribution, sanitation systems and initiating activities to while time away and keep spirits up.
Their constant pleas prompted local government officials to initiate a dialogue with the military. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, nuns and priests, who organized into a support group called Higala sa mga Bakwit (Friends of the Evacuees), managed to pull off three dialogues with the military but these dialogs ended in deadlocks as the military initially refused to pull out of the villages.
Enriquez said that only a few days after the evacuees’ return, Col. Benjamin Pedralves, the commanding officer of the 58th IB, told the media the troops will return to the communities. He said that military presence in these communities will “clear” the area for the entry of coal mining activities within the Andap Valley complex.
In June this year, the Department of Energy (DOE) awarded the companies Abacus and the Lodestar Consolidated Holdings the rights to mine 6,000 hectares in Andap Valley, within the ancestral land of the Manobo people. The Lumad organization Mapasu, which covered 22 Lumad communities in Surigao del Sur, has been opposed to mining within their ancestral lands. (Cheryll D. Fiel /davaotoday.com)