SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/08 June) – Facing pressure from some residents, City Mayor Ernesto Matugas assured that Mamanwas who fled their homes in a village in Kitcharao town, Agusan del Norte would only be staying temporarily in an evacuation site here.
Around 150 Mamanwas arrived Tuesday last week in Barangay Luna to escape fighting between government troops and communist rebels in Sitio Zapanta, Barangay Bangayan in Kitcharao.
But their presence has raised concerns from nearby households over sanitation and security. Most of the evacuees are women and children.
Matugas washed his hands over the evacuation, saying Bayan Muna and other groups that brought the evacuees to this city did not inform City Hall.
The mayor, however, conceded that permission may not be required because the relocation site is privately-owned and the owner has allowed the use of the property. Nonetheless, he said, the evacuation should have been coordinated with city authorities as a matter of courtesy.
A task force composed of city officials has been formed to address the concerns of the residents, and to ensure that the natives would not stay too long in the area where they live in makeshift tents built for them.
Lt. Col. Erwin Rommel P. Lamzon of the 30th Infantry Battalion told MindaNews that the natives may return to their homes because their pursuit operation had already ended.
Government troops launched combat operations against the New People’s Army last May 26, a day after armed men raided the house of former Placer town (Surigao del Norte) mayor Chary T. Mangacop in Surigao City, burning two heavy equipment and allegedly stealing some cash and jewelry. The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, later claimed responsibility for the attack.
In a statement, a rebel spokesperson named Ruby Guerra said the NPA’s Front 16 made the attack to destroy equipment that were reportedly being rented out to mining companies in the province. The statement did not mention the alleged theft of money and jewelry at Mangacop’s house.
Two weeks before the attack on Mangacop’s house after armed men believed to be NPA members burned equipment belonging to the contractor that is currently building a department store of Gaisano Capital here.
Lamzon said their pursuit operation led to a running gun battle in the hinterland of Kitcharao town, resulting in the deaths of some rebels and the wounding of two soldiers.
He said they fired mortar rounds at suspected rebel positions but denied the shelling resulted in any civilian death or injury.
“We did not fire indiscriminately. We followed the rules of engagement. We always ensure that in all of our operations, no civilians will be hurt or worse, get killed,” he said in a phone interview.
Datu Lando “Maribuhok” Anlagan, leader of the Mamanwa evacuees, alleged that some of the mortar shells landed on their farms, frightening women and children.
“We don’t want trouble. We just want to live in peace. This continuing war between the rebels and the military puts us in danger because it makes our land their battlefield,” Anlagan said in the vernacular.
At the evacuation center, women and children sleep on makeshift mats made of sacks. Some have become sick.
The Promotion for Mamanwa Integrated Services for Development (Promis Devt) which is attending to the evacuees said that as of Thursday last week 11 children had fever and diarrhea.
Promis Dev’t volunteer Richel Campos said the evacuees only depended on the donations given to them.
Out of school
Anlagan said that the children have been forced to miss school since the start of classes.
He said they would appreciate it if the Department of Education could send in teachers while they are still in the evacuation center.
Lamzon said the evacuees may now return to their places but that he can’t assure that operations will end unless the rebels withdraw from the area.
Datu Anlagan said this was not enough assurance and urged both sides to sign a truce or at least conduct their battles elsewhere.
Girlie Patagan, National Commission on Indigenous People Provincial Officer led a 9-member team Monday to check if the evacuees can now safely return. The group was yet to issue its findings as of Monday evening. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)