BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/22 March) – Some 100 families or 425 evacuees in Agusan del Norte yesterday started a camp-in protest in the provincial capitol to demand a complete stop to the ongoing military operations in their areas.
The mostly Mamanua protesters came from Sitio Zapanta, Barangay Bangayan in Kitcharao town and Barangay Puting Bato in Cabadbaran City.
“We want the provincial government and the people to know the pain we feel. They need to know the real situation, we did not ask to be evacuated and leave our homes. The ongoing militarization and bombing in the area forced us to seek refuge,” said Lando Anlagan also known as Datu Maribojoc, a leader of the Mamanua tribe in Zapanta.
Datu Maribojoc said it is the responsibility of the local government unit to provide them with their needs “since we did not ask for this (military operation) in the very first place.”
“There are more of us back in the evacuation site hoping for a result from our trip here in Butuan. The food and support they are providing us is simply not enough. We need to go back to our homes and work in the fields but our fear from the ongoing bombing has kept us away,” he said.
This morning, an argument ensued between a provincial official and the group camping at the capitol grounds.
Provincial administrator Percinita Racho went to the camp and accused the youth group who was helping the evacuees of orchestrating the whole event to force the hand of the government.
“You all promised that this will not go beyond but yet you camped out last night. We already have several scheduled and planned activities which are under contract and we will be cited for breach of contract if you will not leave the area,” Racho said.
The official implied that some of those who were there might not even be real evacuees and farmers but planted individuals who may be linked to the New People’s Army.
Her statement enraged many of the evacuees leading several of them to speak out.
“You think it is easy for us and we wanted this? We came here to ask for help and yet you judge us and point at our grief and pain as simply a big drama? If you were in our shoes then you will know,” Roselyn Mantos of Zapanta told Racho.
A visibly angry Avelino Javier, spokesperson for Bayan in Caraga joined the argument calling the provincial government powerless in helping poor people in need.
“These people are not here because we brought them here, they asked for our help. The problem with you, Ma’am, is that you look at the problem and think that the solution is militarization, the problem is poverty. These people need your help yet you try to shove them away as if they are worth nothing. If the province is really serious then push for the resumption of peace talks,” Javier said.
Racho on the other hand tried to explain that since the governor was not around there is only so little that they can do to help.
“The ongoing military operation is not for us to decide nor dictate. Their order comes from a different command and not that of the province. If they want to be heard then let their representative who are so busy with the impeachment speak out for them,” she said. (Erwin Mascarinas/MindaNews)