Talaingod officials ask: “what evacuation?”

SAGIP noted that barangay councilors Agon and Intot of Sitio Nasilaban, Barangay Palma Gil reported that based on the initial investigation they conducted, there were “actual cases of displacement, and human rights violations in Sitio Sasu such as the military's divestment of some 20 chickens, two ducks and the destruction of some houses.”

The two also “confirmed the death of an old man who died during the evacuation,” SAGIP said but Municipal Administrator Salvador Nepa,  “still hastily concluded that no evacuation took place.”

“Not one of the present members of the LGU during the meeting (on January 28), not even the Mayor, not the MSWDO representative, not the police and the 73rd IB commanding officer, gave merit to the initial investigation reports that may serve as lead for the calling of a formal investigation. None of them suggested for such a thorough and serious investigation that should be conducted,” SAGIP said in an “open letter regarding the evacuation, displacement and human rights abuses committed against the Ata-Manobo lumads of Talaingod.”

SAGIP is chaired by Prof. Myfel Luga of the University of the Philippines-Mindanao.

The press statement said SAGIP has been subjected to “unfair criticisms,” particularly on the evacuation of the Ata-Manobos in Talaingod, Davao Del Norte.”

“Due to the local government's blatant denial of the incident, SAGIP has been singled out and accused of motivating the evacuation of the Ata Manobos from the Talaingod hinterlands,” the statement read.

SAGIP as a “non-stock, non-profit non-government organization whose central advocacy is the promotion of the indigenous peoples' rights and welfare,” is expected to “facilitate the appeal that has been forwarded to it by the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon, the local lumad organization of Ata-Manobo lumads in Talaingod composed of more than 65 communities.”

SAGIP received two letters from Salugpongan – on January 19 and 27.

Salugpongan, SAGIP’s press statement said, “reported the military operations in the remote areas of Talaingod, the evacuation of lumads from various sitios, the death of a child due to hunger and an old man while evacuating Sitio Sasu, the place of the military offensives that happened last January 13, and other human rights abuses.”

“As requested by Salugpongan, SAGIP facilitated the victims in filing the complaint to the Commission on Human Rights – Region XI, and then to the Department of Social Welfare and Development on January 21, 2008, hoping that these concerned and duty-bound agencies would respond promptly,” the statement read.

The CHR, it said,  promised to bring the matter to the urgent attention of their Regional Director while the DSWD alerted the Municipal Social Welfare Development Office (MSWDO) in Talaingod and even approved 240 family packs for distribution to the victims.

“But when the matter reached the local government of Talaingod, they were caught unaware of such incidents within their area of responsibility; or as it appears now, they were simply in denial of the evacuation, displacement and human rights violations that happen as consequences of the military operations intermittently raging in the hinterlands of Talaingod,” SAGIP said.

SAGIP went to the office of Talaingod Mayor Pilar Libayao on January 28 to inform the mayor about the appeal from Salugpongan and discuss relief support for the evacuees with the MSWDO.

But Arlane Batua of the MSWDO, “without informing us, invited a representative of the military, police, a member of the press, and some Sitio and Barangay leaders. Our staff felt that instead of being a scheduled meeting for discussing the matter at hand and the relief support, the set up was meant to intimidate those who support the affected communities,” the press statement said, adding that “a few local community leaders coming from the nearby Sitios said that they cannot confirm the evacuation because the areas that Salugpongan pointed out to be heavily affected are far.”

This, even as councilors Agon and Intot of Sitio Nasilaban, Brgy. Palma Gil reported displacement, and human rights violations in Sitio Sasu, including the death of an old man during the evacuation.

For Talaingod officials, SAGIP said, “it was more convenient to dismiss the Lumads' complaints and demands as lies. 2nd Lt. Artur Allauigan of the 73rd IB also outrightly said during the meeting that such demand letter came from the New Peoples' Army.”

“The Municipal Government of Talaingod should not wonder why they were the last agency that the Lumads approached for help. The Municipal Government of Talaingod should not blame SAGIP or other NGO's for being the first to be approached, because as far as this situation is concerned, the municipal government's denial, the terror-tagging of Salugpongan and the refusal to act on the matter apparently makes it a party to the major cover up being played by the military to hide the atrocities committed against the lumads of Talaingod,” SAGIP said. (MindaNews)