By Mart D. Sambalud & John Rizle Saligumba
Talaingod, Davao del Norte—Talaingod town Mayor Basilio Libayao urged Manobos, now encamped in a protestant church compound in Davao City, to return home as “temporary evacuation centers and half a million worth of assistance await them.”
He also declared the town under a state of calamity following the April 3 departure of around 1,350 Manobos who were affected by military operations. It is common practice for the local government in a disaster-stricken area to declare its own “state of calamity” to make the calamity funds available.
But Chieftain Datu Doluman Dawsay, leader of the Salugpungan ta Tanu Igkanugon, the group of Manobos who evacuated to Davao City, told Davao Today they doubt the local government is sincere in helping them.
He said that “they have not even helped us during the crisis of rat infestation and during typhoon Pablo and Crising, how can we expect them to help us with our current safety problems?”
A return to the “militarized areas” is also a violation of international human rights instruments, said Bishop Felixberto Calang, of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and chairperson of Barug Katungod Mindanao.
Calang said: “The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Internally Displaced Peoples should be followed because the evacuation site should be free from the danger — the very reason of the people’s dislocation.”
He also added, “There is the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples that prohibits militarization in Lumad communities. The solution is to ban government troops from occupying communities, whether these are Lumad communities or not.”
“That is an obligation of the Philippine government to international human rights standards,” Calang said.
The military also wants the Manobos to return home.
Major Jake Obligado of the Philipine Army’s 10th Infantry Division, in a televised interview, said that the Lumads “are just being used by militant groups as their claims can easily be solved by the local government as demonstrated with its recent humanitarian assistance.)”
He added that “these lumads are being exploited by the ones that brought them here, to make them look oppressed. While we are solving the problem, these groups use the lumads to make the situation worse).”
Datu Doloman belied the statement of the Army that they were just “being used by militant groups.”
“We approached them because they helped us long ago during our struggle against Alsons,” said Dawsay in an interview with Davao Today.
For Dawsay, the supposed militant groups are their “support groups.”
“the soldiers have never stopped threatening us and destroying our farms,” added Dawsay.
“They (Pasaka and the Solidarity Action Groups for Indigenous Peoples or Sagip) are consistent in helping us. The military is consistent in abusing us all these time and many have died during evacuations,” Dawsay said. He detests the fact that they are being “forced to be accustomed to becoming bakwits (evacuees).”
Libayao, quoted in news reports, ordered an investigation whether supposed “organizers” could be held responsible in the evacuation of the Manobos.
In a press conference, Army’s 1003rd Brigade Commander Colonel Harold Cabreros has denied military encampment in civilian communities, saying that “our troops were deployed to conduct peace and development outreach program in their communities.”
Datu Isidro Indao of Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organizations, one of the groups who assisted the evacuation of the Manobos in 1994, belied military’s claim that they have a peace program in the area.
“It is not true. In fact, their presence in the communities scared all of them. The Lumads are hesitant to visit their farms because of threats, harassment and intimidation,” Indao said.
For his part, Davao del Norte Governor Rodolfo del Rosario told DavaoToday “the displacement of Lumads is a normal situation happening in Talaingod because of the presence of the military running after insurgents in the area particularly in Barangay Palma Gil.”
“It was reported to me that there was an encounter but it is incorrect to say that an aerial bombing occurred. I don’t think the military has the capability to do so,” del Rosario said.
The Provincial Government of Davao del Norte has released family food packs to the Manobo families displaced by the ongoing military operation in Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod town.