Lumad village in Malaybalay harassed by Army soldiers

Datu Migketay Vic Saway told MindaNews Tuesday that elements of the Army unit forced at least three Talaandig men out of their houses for "interrogation.”

The incident caused fear and panic among the villagers. Saway said what happened Monday is a continuing case where indigenous peoples are dragged into the government's war with the NPA. 

But 2nd Lt. Raul Obaob told MindaNews in a telephone interview that around 17 soldiers were in the village to conduct an information drive against joining the NPA. But he admitted questioning some villagers if "it is true that they have become members of the NPA.” 

Saway said the Monday questionings, which started late afternoon up to early evening, affected at least seven families in the village who he said were not used to the military's "psywar antics.” 

He said the military's presence in the village came following reports there were villagers who were suspected to be either members or supporters of the NPA. An earlier report from Saway's group said the Talaandigs were forced to admit they were members of the NPA in a series of interrogation starting 5p.m. Monday.  

Saway said there were reports of an encounter last month between the military unit and armed men believed to be NPA members in the area.  

Obaob stressed they were in the area for the information drive but admitted they were stationed in the area after villagers reported robbery of poultry last month. He said the suspects were NPA members. 

Obaob denied they were interrogating. “We were only asking questions.” 

Saway told MindaNews in a telephone interview that the Talaandig elders were quick to respond to the villagers’  call for help. He said they talked to the victims and the soldiers stationed at the Capitan Anghel barangay hall since October 3.

He said the soldiers pledged to cooperate with villagers. He said the initial fact-finding effort showed that villagers were subjected to questioning by the soldiers in relations to the problem of the NPA's alleged influence in the village.  

The family of a Sangguniang Kabataan leader was asked to come out of the house but refused to do so because earlier,  another man was threatened by a soldier.  A man he named only as Bernabe was reportedly told "Sukad karon, magkaaway na ta," (from now on we are enemies).  The man, Saway, said cried out of fear as the warning implied his life was in danger. 

Saway said they invited the soldiers to clarify their intentions by asking them to participate in a ritual Tuesday afternoon as part of the confidence-building efforts. "This is to prevent similar panic from occurring," he said. 

He explained they need to ensure the security of the Talaandigs in the village to avoid panic.  But he stressed that the military should coordinate with the tribal elders whenever they conduct similar operations. He said they are pushing for a dialogue how to  prevent similar situations in the future. 

Saway said there is no need to use violence, to sow fear and cause panic in the village. "There is no need for violent confrontations, no need for war. We want peace," he said. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)