Bakwits from San Isidro, Lianga want to return home but…

LIANGA, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews/17 February) —  On the concrete wall just below the bleachers of the Prospero B. Pichay Sr. Sports and Cultural Center here, drawings of hearts and Valentines cards done by children, have been posted, their message the same for all:  they want to return home.

“Happy Valentines Day. Unta makabalig mi sa among lugar” (we hope to return home),” an unsigned card says.

Jillmae Cullamat, who is in Level 4 in school, says “Manghinaot ako ng malinawon og makabalik sa among tag-sa- tag-sa nga panimalay para makabalik na kami sa pag eskwela. Manghinaot usab ako nga magtinabangay kita sa pagpaglinaw sa atong komunidad” (I hope for peace so we can return to our respective homes and we can return to school. I also hope we will help each other for peace in our community).

Marivic Sinco’s card has this message: Ang akong gusto nga mag malinawon na ang atong komunidad labina karon nga Happy Valentines Day na usab. Gusto nako nga magbinalikay na sa tagsa-tagsa ka komunidad og mag binalikay na usab sa matag panimalay. Og makabalik na usab kami sa pagtuon. Og makabalik na usab kami sa pag-uma” (What I want is for our community to be peaceful especially now when it is Valentines’ Day. I want us to return to our respective communities and our homes. So we can also return to school. So we can also return to farming).

A  total of 106 families fled their homes in Purok Cinco, Barangay San Isidro when the New People’s Army fired on elements of the Army’s 58th Infantry Battalion who arrived there at around 10 a.m. on February 4, claiming they would rest for two days but who, according to an elder, were recruiting residents into becoming members of the paramilitary.

Joel Campos, San Isidro barangay chair, said the soldiers did not leave as promised two days later. By noon of February 7, the soldiers were fired upon by the NPA some 100 meters away, he said.

Pedro Tejero, a Manobo datu who is also a barangay councilor, said the residents, particularly the women and children ran towards the poblacion of San Isidro, about five to six kilometers away.

Campos said a Lt. Alipio from the battalion brought the evacuees a sack of rice. But noting the difficulties of summoning help in San Isidro, the evacuees opted to walk towards the poblacion of  Lianga on February 9, about four kilometers away, and have since been staying there.

Campos said the evacuees do not want to return home if the military is still in the village. Military presence attracts the NPA to the village, as what happened on February 7. “Area sa NPA ang bukid” (the mountain is an NPA area), the barangay chair said.

Campos said they will await the results of “peace talks” among barangay officials, the local government unit, non-governmental organizations and the military.

San Isidro residents are not new to evacuations. Lianga residents were even volunteering information to reporters that it’s the same area that was also the source of many evacuations in the 1980s and 1990s.

Campos, 35, recalls having had to evacuate twice in the past.

Jenasky Enriquez, acting vice chair of the Malahungtanong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (Sustainable Struggle for the Succeeding Generation), asked what the military operations were for.

He said they suspect the operations have something to do with the interest of big firms to mine Andap Valley for gold, coal, chromite, among other minerals.

The purok where the evacuees came from is part of Andap Valley, he said.

In 2007, he said, 13 IP communities in the Valley said stood up against mining in the area.

A MindaNews team passing through Lianga chanced upon the evacuees at the gym. MindaNews asked the spokesperson and public information officer of  the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) for the phone number of the 58th IB official but as of presstime, no number was made available. (MindaNews)