BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/28 April) — A national fact finding mission said military operations are going on in hinterland barangays of Agusan del Norte and Surigao del Norte, even as officials of local governments and national line agencies denied the reports.
Photographs and video footage supplied by the human rights group Karapatan and the Kahugpongan sa Lumadnong Organisasyon sa Caraga (Kasalo Caraga) to the local media showed two cannons mounted in the middle of a populated community in Barangay Puting Bato in Cabadbaran City.
Another video footage and series of photographs also showed cut trees in the mountains of Zapanta Valley in Kitcharao, Surigao del Norte.
Dr.Naty Castro, secretary-general of Karapatan-Caraga said they also found empty shells from 50 mm machine gun as well as a chainsaw in the area.
The report said the area may have been cleared to serve as landing area for the helicopters that reportedly were used to deploy military forces and deliver supplies at the height of the intense military operations from March 4 to 15 this year.
Karapatan together with indigenous peoples organizations in Mindanao and Manila launched a fact-finding mission on April 12-15 after receiving reports of the exodus of evacuees in the city and other parts in the region due to intense military operations in the two provinces.
The ensuing military operations resulted in the exodus of mass evacuees in Butuan City on March 22 and in Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte on March 26.
“To date, there are over 243 families with about 1,000 men, women and children from the mountain of Palidan in Brgy. Mahaba and Sitio Losong, Brgy. Puting Bato in Cabadbaran City; Manhumapay in Zapanta Valley, Brgy. Bangayan, Kitcharao, both in Agusan del Norte; Brgy. Ferlda in Alegria,and Brgy. Camam-onan, Guigaquit, both in Surigao del Norte who have evacuated their communities and are staying in different evacuation sites in bothprovinces,” Castro said.
In its report, the Mission said they were repeatedly denied audience by local officials in Butuan City, Cabadbaran and in Gigaquit.
It said a dialogue with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples’ (NCIP) regional director Dominador Gomez reportedly was not fruitful as the official reportedly denied the presence of evacuees as well as military operations because “he did not receive a report from the field.”
The Mission also noted that Gomez declined assistance to the Mamanwa evacuees allegedly because it does not have funds to support the hundreds of evacuees now staying in Brgy. Banza.
The report also noted that Marilyn Pinto, regional director of the Commission on Human Rights told the group that she is “unaware” of her role in addressing the problem of the evacuees. Castro said Pintor is not aware of her mandate as CHR director.
Castro said the mission team wanted to meet with Rep. Angel Amante-Matba but she sent her Chief of Staff who told them there is nothing they can do because it is a “national command.”
Given these officials’ denials, the Mission said it is constrained to bring the issue to Manila and present its report to Congress, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of National Defense and CHR chair Loretta Rosales.
The group also intends to raise the issue to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR) on the Rights of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Kakay Tolentino, Katribu Partylist national coordinator, said the NCIP’s inutility shows P-Noy’s real agenda to favor the mining industry in the country. “Ang local siempre ay susunod lang yan sa kagustuhan ng nasa taas,” Tolentino said.
Kasalo Caraga spokesperson Genasque Enriquez lambasted officials for accusing their group as pawns of the communists. “I will not sacrifice my wife and children to sleep on cold cement floors for weeks,” he said.
“This only shows the long historical discrimination against our people. This is already old and rehashed, the real issue is the evacuees and why did they evacuate?,” he said.
Dato Monico Cayog of Kalumaran, a Mindanao-wide organizationof Lumads said those who spread stories that the Mamanwa evacuees were “hakot”( a term for gathering people en masse and bringing them to another area on board trucks) are “crazy people.”
“Buang na. Daghan ba kwarta ang Kasalo, ang Karapatan? Ang nagsulti ana anad na sa election kay manghakot. Gianad nila ang mga tawo nga bayran, pakan-on para muboto sa ila,” (Crazy. Kasalo and Karapatan have money? Whoever said that is used to elections where they haul and feed people to vote for their candidates), he said.
Cayog said the military operations in the mountains of the two Carga provinces are aimed at displacing the tribal communities to accommodate mining companies.
Lt. Col. Vincent Iringan, commanding officer of the 30th Infantry Battalion, confirmed military operations are being carried out in Surigao del Norte “where there are sightings of armed illegal groups” because it is “our mandate as soldiers of the land.”
Iringan said a dialogue was already conducted with Mamanwa evacuees in Brgy. Baoy, Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte together with local government officials, the NCIP and other stakeholders.
Barangay councilor Baby Coter on one hand could not confirm that a dialogue had ensued saying as of present the evacuees are still staying at a dam site in Brgy. Baoy and local government officials and NCIP officials continue to deny assistance to the evacuees. “Asa may NCIP ug mayor wala man pakita sa mga bakwit” (Where is NICP and the mayor? They never showed up to the evacuees), Coter said in a text message. (Vanessa L. Almeda/MindaNews)