By ALDWIN QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY— Sagada residents of Mountain Province as well as local and foreign tourists were surprised when soldiers belonging to the 54th Infantry Battalion Philippine Army (IBPA) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) set up camps at Lake Danum and Pilao.
Tourist guides estimated a battalion size of fully-armed soldiers who arrived in the area on February 4. Residents complained that the soldiers just entered their private properties without even informing or getting consent from the owners.
In the morning of the said day, residents out on their usual early morning chores of checking on or pasturing their farm animals in the northern villages of Sagada gave up finishing their chores when at the Langsayan ridge they saw heavily-armed soldiers.
Before that, Sagada residents said that three regular six-by-six trucks full of soldiers belonging to the 54th IB entered the municipality on January 31, the day of the opening of the Sagada Town Fiesta and Etag Festival. The trucks later proceeded to Besao.
In an interview with Besao Mayor Wellington Pooten, he said the soldiers delivered chairs for the turn over of a school building funded by ABS-CBN. The third truck also delivered chairs to another ABS-CBN funded school at Peg-an of the same municipality.
At around 1:00 a.m. of February 4, nine elf and 6×6 trucks entered the municipality of Sagada and Besao.
Pooten said the soldiers asked permission from him to conduct a familiarization tour for the new 54th IB commanding officer of his area of responsibility.
The soldiers were spread out along the Pilao-Langsayan ridge, Datacan-Masameyeo, Banguitan-Suquib and Kin-iway of Sagada and Besao territories. Residents of Aguid of Sagada complained that their communal forest below Mt. Sisipitan and nearby Bumay-eng were allegedly burned by the soldiers.
According to Sagada Mayor Eduardo Latawan Jr., there was neither courtesy call nor notice from the 54th IB regarding their entry to Sagada. He said he requested the soldiers to immediately leave the area as it is a tourist destination. He said Sagada folks have bad experiences brought by militarization of the area in 1989, citing the shooting of a young boy by a drunken soldier and other cases of harassment and threats perpetrated by the military.
The soldiers left Lake Danum in the afternoon of February 6. However, at least 300 fully-armed soldiers returned to the area on February 8, entering the villages of Ankileng, Suyo and Balugan . Soldiers were also seen conducting foot patrol at Pegeo area of Sagad.
The entry of soldiers coincided with the ongoing Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) consultations between the communities of Central Sagada and the FPIC team of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Mt. Province on the proposed windmill project of Pentagon and PhilCarbon. (Northern Dispatch/ Posted by )