Butuan ‘bakwits’ used as propaganda tool?

BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/18 April) – Are the internally displaced persons (IDPs, or “bakwits”) from Agusan del Norte’s hinterland areas who sought refuge in this city to avoid being caught in the crossfire in the military’s operations against rebels just being used by supposed progressive groups like the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and the Kahugpongan sa Lumadnong Organisasyon (Kasalo)?

Such was the findings of the Regional Peace and Order Council of the Caraga region after the RPOC, along with the newly formed Task Force Kitcharao and representatives from various sectors, conducted investigations on the matter.

But Bayan spokesperson Avelino Javier, in a phone interview, challenged RPOC members to try and stay in the affected areas and experience the sound of bombs.

Towards the end of March, 257 families or about 1,100 persons, mostly of the Mamanwa tribe, temporarily stayed at a covered court in Barangay Imadejas here as they escaped the fighting between government troops and communist rebels in the mountains of neighboring Cabadbaran City and in the municipality of Kitcharao.

Butuan Mayor Ferdinand Amante, the RPOC chair, said that the “bakwits” had manifested that they wanted to go home because they do not want to live far from their places where their livelihood and domestic animals are.

But somehow they cannot go back because there are several groups keeping them from going back to their respective places, the same groups who brought them to this city, Amante said.

The mayor nevertheless said that they are somewhat relieved and happy that half of those who sought refuge at Imadejas have already gone home.

“The remaining half of the group, up to now, are still not decided to go back despite the advice that their respective areas are already safe from military operations,” Amante said. The RPOC, he added, had ordered a team to inspect the IDPs’ areas to know the truth and to check if it is already safe to go back.

“I am calling on the progressive groups that they should meet us in a happy compromise. After all, we are all in this together,” said Amante.

Kitcharao Mayor Jenrey Montante said that they had visited the area in Sitio Zapanta, Barangay Bangayan in Kitcharao and found out that the military operations were nowhere close to the civilians’ houses.

“I don’t understand why some chose not to go back since we already explained to them several times that it is now safe for them to go back and that there are no military operations in the area,” Montante stressed.

The RPOC and members of Task Force Kitcharao, who visited supposed affected areas, said that the claims by the progressive groups like the Kasalo and Bayan are not true, especially in the case of Barangay Mahaba in Cabadbaran.

“The rumors about the fighting between the rebels and the Army in Barangay Mahaba are not true,” according to said barangay chairman Melba Dagohoy. Army troopers, she said, were just passing through on their way to other areas where the rebels were, like Puting Bato and Dinulagan. The IDPs from Mahaba, she added, were fetched by the progressive groups.

Dagohoy said she was shocked upon finding out that several Mamanwas from Sitio Paligan in Mahaba were going to Butuan being victims of military operations since there was no battle in Paligan.

“The combat between NPAs and the Army was happening in the upper areas. We can hear the bombings in Puting Bato and Dinulagan but not in Mahaba, contrary to what they are claiming,” said Datu Badem Kalinawan of the Mamanwa tribe from Mahaba. “I don’t know why they are using our IPs in this manner,” he lamented.

Bayan’s Javier, on the other hand, said that the RPOC’s claims “did not recognize nor acknowledge the reality of the indiscriminate shelling, bombings and air strikes by the military and the subsequent military presence in the indigenous communities.”

He said that in some cases, the explosions may be far from the settlement areas but these created fear among the people, especially among women and children. (Erwin Mascariñas / MindaNews)