By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – For the second time, Bae Bebeth, Enriquez, 33, a Mamanwa and a mother of five from Agusan del Norte, is back in Manila.
It was in 2012 when she joined the first Manilakbayan to join the call to stop the militarization in Mindanao.
Enriquez with her parents, a female cousin and uncle survived a strafing by soldiers from the 29th Infantry Battalion on Sept. 10, 2011.
The situation has not changed.
Enriquez said that all they want is to live in peace, cultivate their land and expand it for their tribe’s next generation. But they cannot do it with the military around. Enriquez who is from Palidan, Mahaba, Cabadbaran said that they have been living in constant fear.
More than the loss of their livelihood, Bebeth said it is more difficult to feel always on the edge.
Bebeth said her community believes that the presence of the military is brought about by the approved hydroelectric power project of First Gen Mindanao Hydropower Corp.
“There is an on-going construction of hydropower plant in sitio Lusong, barangay Puting Bato, Cabadbaran, Agusan Del Norte. Before the construction, the military came and conducted ‘community organizing for peace and development (COPD).’ Afterwards, they branded the people as members of the New People’s Army,” said Bebeth.
In April this year, they evacuated after soldiers mistook a farmer as an NPA and fired at him.
“The soldiers fired their guns inside the church looking for the alleged NPA. They used children as human shields. So we decided to flee from the village. We thought, if they could go berserk even without being in an actual encounter, what more if they find their enemies?”
Ten families and 55 individuals, a mix of Mamanwa and Manobo tribe have evacuated from Puting Bato and Mahaba villages, Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte. The military claimed that they evacuated from their place because the NPAs told them so. “That is not true,” Bebeth told Bulatlat.com.
The presence of soldiers has affected their livelihood. They cannot hunt or even go to their farm to gather food for consumption. She said some of her village mates were severely traumatized; some were unable to recover.
“When there was no private company who had an interest in our community our lives were peaceful. But when the company came, fear took over,” she said.
They demand peace. “We are here in Manila to hold President Benigno S. Aquino III accountable to the people of Mindanao,” she said.
All these, her near-death experience and difficulties brought about by militarization had made her more determined to fight. “I never thought of quitting the struggle. We inherit this land from our ancestors and this is the same land that the next generation will inherit from us.”