SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 July) – Bishop Rhee Timbang of the Philippine Independent Church (PIC) in Surigao del Norte has called on the military to pull out from the village of Tinago in Malimono town in Surigao del Norte as he claims the soldiers are the reason for the residents’ displacement from their homes.
The bishop said the presence of soldiers in the villages has caused displacement among residents in the area.
But the military said the pullout won’t happen as it is a known tactic of the New People’s Army (NPA) to tell residents that the military is the reason for the displacement and thus demand that the soldiers leave the area.
“It is ironic that these deployments took place in a time when the momentum for the resumption of peace talks has gained ground,” Timbang told MindaNews on Wednesday.
Tinago barangay captain Samson Macarine said residents in his village have fled their homes twice in a span of six days. “First was last Saturday and we returned home by Sunday. The second was last Tuesday,” he added.
Macarine said this started when troops of the 30th Infantry Battalion came to Tinago to conduct Peace Development Outreach Program and stayed in the village’s multipurpose building.
On Saturday, he said, exchange of gun fire happened, prompting some residents to flee and seek refuge in an evacuation center in the town, some 1.5 kilometers away.
Macarine said that on Sunday, the residents went back to their homes. But last Tuesday gun fires were heard again, prompting the residents to flee once more.
All evacuees had returned home as of Thursday.
Bishop Timbang said the Army utilized the residents as “shields.”
“The Army converted the Peace and Order Council Meeting in Malimono on Monday into a lecture session, sidelining the bakwit (evacuation) issue,” he said.
“[The Army] has also gone on air maligning the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and IFI (Iglesia Filipina Independiente or PIC) clergy as to have advised the bakwits not to return home. The truth of the matter, it was the bakwits, who are mostly church members, who requested the help of the churches to support their plight,” the bishop said.
Macarine said the barangay council also issued a resolution requesting the military troops to be pulled out of their village. The council’s minimum demand, he said, is for the soldiers to stay at least 500 meters away from the center of the village for the safety of dwellers.
Macarine, however, lamented that Malimono Mayor William Senaca, who is chairman of the Municipal Peace and Order Council, did not act on the resolution.
Ka Jhared, of the NPA’s Front Committee 16, told MindaNews Friday that military presence in the center of communities violates the protocol on war of the Geneva Conventions.
“If there is no military in the area, there would be peace and no mass displacements,” he said.
But Lt. Col. Rico Amaro, of the Army’s 30th Infantry Battalion, said the call for military to pull out is a known tactic of the NPA.
“They tell the civilians that the military has caused this and tell the local government unit to push for the pull out of the Army, which is in the communities to help deliver necessary government social services,” he said.
Amaro denied that the military has made encampments in the village center, even as Macarine insists that soldiers are staying at the multipurpose center.
The military officer that there is a standing memorandum of understanding with the local government units, including barangay captains, that it is for the Army to determine the needs of residents in remote communities.
Amaro pointed out that in these communities, no government services have been rendered because of the threat from the rebels, and it is only the Army who has the guts to do it.
He stressed, too, that the Geneva Convention is not applicable in the present situation because “we are not at war.”
“What is applicable in our present situation is our laws, and we need to bring firearms when we perform our duties in the remote communities,” Amaro said.
Last month, a seven-year-old girl was killed in another municipality (Bacuag) in Surigao del Norte due to the firefight between the military and communist guerrillas.