DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 April) — Manobo residents of Talaingod, Davao del Norte who have sought refuge in Davao City since April 4 owing to military operations in their area will finally be going home following an agreement for a troop pullout.
From May 1 to May 2, vehicles to be provided by the city government will bring them back to Talaingod.
The agreement came after a dialogue that lasted at least five hours between Lumad leaders, local and military officials, and City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. The dialogue took place Tuesday night, April 29, in Grand Men Seng Hotel and livestreamed by groups supporting the evacuees.
The evacuees were represented by leaders of the Salugpungan Ta Tatanu Ig Kanogon (Unity in Defense of Ancestral Land) and PASAKA (Confederation of Lumad Organizations in Southern Mindanao).
Davao del Norte Gov. Rodolfo del Rosario, Talaingod mayor Basilio Libayao, 10th Infantry Division chief Major General Ariel Bernardo also attended.
The parties agreed that no armed military personnel would be allowed to escort the evacuees from Davao City to their respective villages. They will also receive rice, noodles, canned goods and kitchen utensils from the social services offices of Talaingod and Davao del Norte province, aside from medical assessments in Talaingod prior to their return to their villages.
10th ID chief Major General Ariel Bernardo confirmed to MindaNews that troops will be pulled out of 10 sitios (sub-villages) identified by the Manobo leaders namely, Sitio Bayabas, Sazo, Pong-pong, Nasilaban, Dulyan, Nalubas, Bagang, Lasakan, Sambolongan and Bogni.
He, however, clarified the pullout will only be “temporary” due to the alleged heavy presence of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the area.
Hundreds of Manobos fled their homes for fear of getting caught in crossfire between the NPA and government troops.
Davao del Norte Gov. Rodolfo del Rosario discusses with Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and 10th Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Ariel Bernardo the points agreed on during a dialogue in Grand Men Seng Hotel.
Datu Doloman Dawsay, leader of the Talaingod Manobo said they left their village not only because of the military operations, which include “aerial bombings,” but also because the military tagged them as either NPA members or sympathizers.
Thirteen-year old “Kim-kim” (not his real name) alleged in an interview with MindaNews last April 11 that soldiers came to their house and controlled their movements.
“If I’d go out of the house for the toilet, they’d follow me saying I might report to the NPA. They also told me that if I join the Army in order to have girls, it’s better that I did not get a job,” he said in Cebuano.
Col. Harold Cabreros, commander of the 1003rd Infantry Brigade operating in Talaingod denied however the allegations of the residents during his presentation at the dialogue.
Cabreros said they are conducting “Peace and Development Outreach Program” in Talaingod in response to the growing presence of the NPA.
He appealed to the NPA to “stop the exploitation of the indigenous peoples and to abandon armed struggle.”
Duterte in a separate meeting said he believes in some of the aspirations of the NPA like land reform.
“But what I can’t agree with is armed struggle. I don’t want a bloodbath with fellow Filipinos,” he said in Cebuano.
Datu Dawsay said he was happy with the results of the dialogue but added their struggle was far from over.
Tribal leader Teody Mansumoy-at, who teaches literacy and numeracy in Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod agreed with Datu Dawsay.
“We’re happy that we can now return, but we will continue protecting our ancestral domain, living culture and peaceful existence in Talaingod,” he said in Cebuano. (Toto Lozano/MindaNews)