DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 April) – Ata-Manobo evacuees from Talaingod, Davao del Norte held a picket Tuesday before the regional offices of the Commission on Human Rights and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to protest military presence in their communities.
Datu Duloman Dawsay, spokesperson of Salugpongan ‘Ta Tanu Igkanogon, said continuing military operations in the area have scared his fellow Lumads forcing them to seek refuge at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran compound, this city.
The evacuees came from the villages of Bayabas, Sazo, Pongpong, Nasilaban, Banwalay, Nalubas, Bagang, Lasakan, Sambolongan and Bogni. As of Tuesday the number of evacuees has reached close to 1,000 individuals, 503 of whom are children.
The Ata-Manobos fled their homes last April 3 due to alleged military abuses and aerial bombings.
During the picket they echoed their call for a total pullout of the military from their communities.
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Davao City, from whom the Lumads sought assistance, in a statement said military presence has terrorized community members and threatened their livelihoods with “aerial bombings”.
In an interview, the military said there was nothing to fear as the bombardments were “surgical operations targeted towards the enemy.”
10th Infantry Division spokesperson Lt. Col. Patrick Sinco said these were not “aerial bombings” but close air support operations against the New People’s Army (NPA).
He said the operations were not random and used MG520 attack helicopters equipped with machineguns and rockets.
He said the military no longer uses Howitzers to avoid hitting civilians.
“The Air Force is precise, and the communities do not have to be afraid,” Sinco said.
He added the military adheres to their rules of engagement even when using aircraft from the 11th Tactical Operations Group.
Last week, Talaingod Mayor Basilio Libayao apologized to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte over the evacuation, and said the issue could have been settled by their local government unit.
Libayao last week said the Lumads were forced to evacuate to this city by some organizations.
Dawsay denied the allegation. He said it was the decision of Salugpongan leaders to head for Davao City like they did in 1994 when they asked Duterte to help them negotiate with a company that encroached on their territory.
Meanwhile, the evacuees need medical supplies including intravenous medicines and fluids, antibiotics and multivitamins.
Health personnel have reported an outbreak of respiratory diseases and diarrhea due to cramped tents placed side by side within the UCCP compound.
The City Health Office went to the evacuees on Monday to give immunizations to children as well as treat tetanus and wounds.
UCCP has allowed the digging of holes for 10 makeshift toilets. (MindaNews)