Even as 1,000 evacuees return to their villages in San Luis town, more than a hundred others remain in Bunawan town.
By DEE AYROSO
After almost three months, the Lumad evacuees in Balit village finally returned home on March 21, as soldiers of the 26th Infantry Battalion withdrew from their communities in San Luis town.
In another municipality, in Bunawan, 115 families remain at an evacuation site as they complained of the presence of another military unit, the 79th IB.
On March 21, 969 Banwaons from the four villages of Mahagsay, Sta Rita, Binicalan and San Pedro in San Luis were transported back to their communities with the help of the regional Lumad group Kalumbay.
The Lumads were promised “safe passage and food assistance” by government at the March 18 dialogue with 26th IB chief Lt. Col. Ricardo Dumawa, and local officials Agusan del Sur Governor Adolph Edward Plaza and San Luis Mayor Ronaldo Corvero.
Kalumbay secretary general Roger Plana reported that Dumawa gave commitment to pull out the 26th IB soldiers from the Lumad areas. Plana said the government gave only 10 kilos of rice for each evacuee family, which will not last them long as they still need to rehabilitate their abandoned farms.
In the past weeks, the Banwaon evacuees sustained a campaign calling for military pullout from their communities to enable them to return home. The evacuees were staying at an abandoned hospital in Balit village. Three children and a pregnant woman had died in the course of the evacuation.
Meanwhile, 115 individuals belonging to 31 families remain at an evacuation site and continue to live “under harsh conditions” at the Bunawan Brook village Multipurpose Hall in Bunawan town.
Franklin Aquino, secretary general of Karapatan-Agusan del Sur, said in a statement that the evacuees came from the subvillages of Kiatsan and San Isidro of Bunawan Brook, and went to the village proper starting on February 3 up to March 8, as soldiers of the 75th IB began conducting “community organizing for peace and development” (COPD).
“The conduct of these operations included military occupation of private and public areas in the community, including vacant houses, community cooperatives, chapels and multipurpose halls,” Aquino said. The residents “feared for their children’s safety, red-baiting and NPA witch-hunt of the COPD teams during community meetings,” which forced them to evacuate, he added.
The military operations led to a clash with the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels. Peasant Marson Suazo was shot and wounded in the crossfire.
“The evacuees confirmed the continuing presence of the soldiers in their communities, living in their vacated houses, so that they are unable to return safely to their homes,” Aquino said.
Aquino said that the 75th IB is suspected to be responsible in the extrajudicial killing of Fil John Poloyapoy and the disappearance of his brothers Phillip and Philims, who were accosted by soldiers during their operations on Nov. 1, 2014. The brothers remain missing to date.