Standing by, defending the Talaingod Manobo

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

They’re at it again, or rather, they haven’t stopped doing it. Over the past two months they have been doing the same in Talaingod, Davao del Norte and other places in the Davao region.

I refer to the AFP’s counterinsurgency forces under Oplan Bayanihan ­— in the guise of “peace and development” teams — who occupy schools, health centers, and chapels in rural communities and terrorize the villagers in blatant violation of international humanitarian law and Republic Act 7610.

This is the fourth piece I have written on this issue.

On Aug. 13, 2011, I detailed the three-month occupation by 17th and 73rd IB soldiers of the Blaan Literacy School and Learning Center in Upper Suyuan, Malapitan, Sarangani province. The school’s NGO sponsor and the community fought back. They filed charges of human rights violations against the soldiers at the Commission on Human Rights.

My July 21, 2012 piece pertained to the 118 teachers and directors of literacy and non-formal schools in northeastern Mindanao, who demanded the withdrawal of soldiers who had occupied their schools, interrogated the teachers, conducted classes, and branded their schools as “rebel schools.”

Last Feb. 1, I wrote about Grade 6 and high school students who since July 1, 2012 were required, under Memorandum No. 68 of the Department of Education-CAR, to participate in AFP-conducted counterinsurgency lectures during class hours in Baguio City public schools.

Recent documentations by Karapatan-Southern Mindanao show that the military have practically taken over the following schools:

• Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center Inc. (STTILCI) in Talaingod and Compostela Valley.

• Monkayo Vocational School in Compostela Valley (the 25th IB parked their APC vehicles in the school compound).

• Tugbok Elementary and High School in Tugbok District, Davao City (84th IB often parked a 6-by-6 truck in the school gym).

• Cotabato Foundation College of Science and Technology in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato (10th Special Forces and 57th IB troops, in full uniform and carrying firearms, freely went in and out of the school; some played basketball, and used the school’s Internet).

• Kalasagan Elementary School in San Isidro, Lupon, Davao Oriental (occupied by the 28th IB and 2nd Scout Rangers unit; they also occupied the barangay hall, health center, chapel, basketball courts, and some residents’ homes).

The locations of these schools show that the counterinsurgency troops have extended their illegal occupation of schools in rural communities into the town centers and Davao City.

A harrowing situation is what the month-long counterinsurgency operations and troop occupation (March 3-April 3, 2014) has inflicted on the communities of the Talaingod Manobo people of Davao del Norte.

Almost 1,700 villagers have been displaced: 972, of whom 515 were children, trekked to Davao City to draw attention to their plight and elicit support. The rest scattered, some reaching as far as Bukidnon.

Accountability for their plight has been pinned on the 60th, 68th and 1003rd IBs and the 4th Special Forces of the AFP.

On the positive side: In behalf of the evacuees, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Davao del Norte Gov. Rodolfo del Rosario dialogued with high-ranking AFP officers last April 29. The latter agreed to pull out the troops from the communities so the evacuees could return home.

Let’s take a brief look into some incidents:

The troubles in Talaingod began last March 3, when soldiers came to Barangay Palma Gil and began interrogating teachers and volunteer workers at the STTILCI, accusing them of working for a school “operated” by the New People’s Army.

On March 10, the soldiers seized Ubunay Botod Manlaon, an elderly woman, and forced her to act as their guide for a week. She was allegedly treated in a “dehumanizing way and subjected to sexual abuse.”

On March 15, in Nalubas village, soldiers stopped 13 children, three parents, village leader Tungig Mansimuy-at and teacher Roilan Licayan on their way to Palungan to procure foodstuff for their school’s recognition rites. The soldiers photographed and interrogated the group, then accompanied them to Palungan. On their way back home, the group was again accosted and interrogated by another team of soldiers for an hour.

On March 26, the villages of Bagang and Laslasakan in Palma Gil were subjected to aerial bombing, followed by strafing and indiscriminate firing by soldiers in the next two days.

On March 27, the villagers of Pangaan, Nalubas, Pongpong, Bayabas, and Bugni began their trek to the lower village of Laslasakan before proceeding to Davao City. The situation in their villages had become unbearable, the evacuees claimed, because soldiers had threatened them and prevented them from tending their farms.

Tomorrow at a public forum in Davao City, a National Humanitarian Fact-Finding Mission will report on its findings in Talaingod, Maco (Compostela Valley), Arakan-Magpet (North Cotabato), and Paquibato (Davao City). The forum’s hosts — Exodus for Justice and Peace and Defend Talaingod, Save Pantaron Range Alliance — wrote this tribute to the Talaingod Manobo’s struggle:

“We are roused to support their cause. We are moved by the children’s simple dreams. We are awed by the datus’ wisdom and their unity. We are inspired by their courage.”

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May 17, 2014

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