DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 04 February ) — Security preparations for President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to his parents’ grave on Sunday, the sixth death anniversary of his mother, Soledad, caused panic among some 300 Lumad ‘bakwits’ (evacuees) staying in a compound near the cemetery.
An “urgent alert” sent out by the Pasaka Confederaton of Lumad Organizations in Southern Mindanao said “armed elements from TF (Task Force) Davao and PNP (Philippine National Police) were seen in front of UCCP Haran sanctuary in Davao City as anticipated under the government plan for lockdown this week within the city.”
Kerlan Fanagel, Pasaka chair, told MindaNews that at around 2 p.m. on Sunday, security forces on board a six-by-six military truck and a mini bus along with patrol cars and motorcycles parked near the fence where some 300 Lumads who evacuated to the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) sought sanctuary.
The Lumads fled their villages in Arakan, North Cotabato and Kapalong and Talaingod in Davao del Norte to avoid getting caught in a crossfire between the military and the New People’s Army.
Sustained military operations are ongoing in these areas particularly after President Duterte called off the peace talks with the National Democratic Front in November last year. The NDF represents the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA in the peace negotiations.
But Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, Deputy Commander of Task Force Davao told MindaNews on Sunday: “President went to his mother. Today is the death anniversary. Yung mini bus ay PSG (Presidential Security Group). Nag panic taga Haran?”
The President arrived at the cemetery early evening.
Fanagel said the Lumad evacuees got scared because of the troops’ arrival and because security forces were taking their photographs.
In their “urgent alert” Pasaka mentioned a “lockdown this week within the city,” referring to one of the features of “Southern Storm,” a nationwide series of anti-terror exercises that will be pilot-tested in Davao City.
Initially scheduled first week of February, it has been moved to the fourth week, Col. Alexander Tagum, city police chief told MindaNews last Friday.
In a statement on January 29, Mayor Sara Duterte called on the participation of the barangays “because the simultaneous exercises will require a lockdown of the city and the members of our communities need to be informed.”
The special focus areas for “Southern Storm” includes vital infrastructure and facilities in the city, including the Davao International Airport and other entry points to the city.
“We all need to be prepared because the fight against terrorism and crime is the responsibility of everyone,” the mayor said.
The Philippine News Agency on January 23 quoted PNP Deputy Director General for Operations Camilo Pancratius Cascolan as saying Davao City was chosen as the pilot area for “Southern Storm” not only because this is the home city of President Duterte but also because of the high-level threat in Mindanao.
Duterte placed Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities under martial law since the Maute Group laid siege on Marawi City on May 23, 2017. Martial law has been extended twice — from July to yearend 2017 and in December it was extended again until December 31, 2018.
Cascolan, who will serve as supervising officer of “Southern Storm” presented the project to the City Council during its regular session on January 23. He had earlier presented the same to Mayor Duterte.
“Southern Storm,” according to Cascolan, is the brainchild of PNP Chief Ronald dela Rosa, who once served as chief of police here, to determine the interoperability capacity of the PNP.
The PNP will be using the facilities of the city’s Central 911.
The PNA report on Cascolan’s presentation said the Mindanao exercise is composed of “anti-criminality program, crime intervention and solution, internal cleansing, information operation, security measures, and contingency planning.”
The report said Cascolan told reporters after the presentation that “Southern Storm” will involve role-playing, that there will be actors playing the role of mayor, councilors, other heads of agencies to determine how they respond to crisis especially during terror attacks.
The exercise is also aimed at determining the level of understanding, response, and readiness of all those involved, to help authorities identify gaps, weaknesses, and find ways to improve response system of the government, the report said
“This is also to plan counter-terrorism strategy, including senior decision-making, operational and tactical responses,” the PNA quoted Cascolan as saying. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)