But the evacuees discovered upon their return that their homes and stores were ransacked and looted, their rice and animals gone, and their tribal schools desecrated, the Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran) claimed in a statement.
The evacuees came from villages in the towns of Lianga, Tago, San Agustin, and San Miguel, places known collectively as Andap Valley.
“This military operation has pushed us back to zero. People from the mountains are seen as nothing but monkeys. We are shown no respect, as if we are not human!” a tribal leader reportedly said.
The evacuees were escorted by representatives of NGOs and religious congregations, including Kalumaran, who were likewise dismayed by the destruction the lumads found upon returning to their communities.
Among the ransacked school buildings were the nationally awarded primary schools of Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao Sur and Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development in Han-ayan, Diatagon, Lianga. Chairs and tables were tipped over and mud, dirt, school papers, and garbage were strewn across the floors.
These schools were developed by the community organization Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu) with assistance from NGOs.
“None of the 150 chickens left behind in the school’s brooding house remained, yet chicken feathers were found scattered near makeshift cooking areas. Goats and pigs belonging to the school and residents are believed to have been butchered by military elements. A fish pond filled with tilapia was also found empty upon return,” Kalumaran said.
“This Manobo tribe’s livelihood has been deliberately destroyed by elements of the 58th IB that occupied this place for weeks. The schools and the program for sustainable agriculture the community had built up over the years were part of the tribe’s effort and expression of self-determination for their ancestral domain,” said Dulphing Ogan, secretary general of Kalumaran.
“This same scenario is repeated again and again. It is inhuman. Is the military trying to impede our right to develop our communities? Is this how the government respects the rights of indigenous peoples?” he asked.
The military operation is believed to be a precursor to coal and gold mining and agribusiness operations in the area. Residents reported seeing unknown individuals entering their areas, as well as being called to meetings with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples encouraging them to agree to the entry of large-scale mining firms, the statement said.
Residents, however, have remained overwhelmingly opposed to mining, it added. (MindaNews)