Lumad ‘bakwits’ in Surigao Sur to return home

SITIO HAN-AYAN, Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews/02 Sept.) — Over 2000 Lumad evacuees at the Provincial Sports Complex in Tandag City were scheduled to return home on Saturday (Sept. 3), a year after they were forced to flee due to the killings of three of their leaders by alleged members of a paramilitary group.

On Sept. 1 last year, witnesses said, Magahat-Bagani militiamen killed Manobo leaders Dionel Campos, Datu Juvello Sinzo and Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) head Emerito Samarca.

Alcadev, along with other Lumad schools in Mindanao, has been accused of coddling New People’s Army rebels.

The attack triggered the evacuation of some 3,000 residents from Han-ayan and 26 other villages in the towns of Lianga, San Agustin, San Miguel, Marihatag and Tago.

On Friday, 402nd Infantry Brigade commander Col. Isidro Purisima ordered his troops to dismantle their camp in Han-ayan and Km. 9 of Diatagon.

Over 700 members of the Friends of the Lumad in Caraga, including Bishop Modesto Villasanta of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and Fr. Fortunato Estillore of the Indigenous Peoples Apostolate of the Diocese of Tandag witnessed the pullout of the military.

Purisma told MindaNews in an interview that he ordered the pullout to heed the request of the Lumads and as part of the peace process being pursued by the Duterte administration.

Lianga Mayor Homer Pedroso and the entire municipal council of Lianga, in the presence of Diatagon Barangay Chair Liby Te, accepted the “turnover” of the Lumad villages from Purisima in Han-ayan.

A short program took place just outside the gate of the Han-ayan Primary School and the school compound of Alcadev.

Jose Campos, representing the residents of Km. 16 and Han-ayan and members of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod, reiterated their call for the soldiers to dismantle their camp and leave the communities within the day so that the rest of the evacuees could return home.

At around 2pm, about 30 elements of the 75th IB who encamped in Han-ayan left. Another group of 30 soldiers from the same unit left Km. 9 at around 3pm.

During the program, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary General Renato Reyes said the military pullout from the community would create a more positive atmosphere and confidence for the current peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

“This is the result of the peace process effort of President Rodrigo R. Duterte and we are really happy on this development,” he told reporters.

The rest of the evacuees, who are still at the Provincial Sports Complex, will return to their communities after all the soldiers have left. About 1800 men, women and children were set to return to their homes on Sept. 3.

The Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office gave packs of relief items containing six kilos of rice, canned goods, and household stuff such as mosquito nets and washbasins. (Roel Catoto/MindaNews)