Dialogue tempers rift between military, tribe

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/23 March)—A brewing rift between the military and a tribal community in the coal-rich town of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato was averted after the parties patched things up in a dialogue here Thursday.

Present during the dialogue were representatives of the Commission on Human Rights, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, 27th Infantry Battalion, the religious-run Hessed Foundation and Taboli Manubo S’daf Claimants Organization (Tamasco).

Sister Susan O. Bolanio, who represents Hessed, said they are happy with the results of the dialogue, which came due to the fear of Tamasco members of military harassments.

Tamasco is a tribal community in Sitio Datal Bonlangon in Barangay Ned, which is one of the beneficiaries of Hessed’s social works.

“They can now return to farming [in their community]. It’s a fruitful dialogue,” the nun told reporters.

Bolanio said the group’s leader, Datu Victor Danyan left the community in fear of soldiers from the 27th IB who was looking for him and that he would be a “wanted person” if he would not surface.

The soldiers also fired a shot in the community during the incident last February 3 that sowed fear among the tribal members.

Lt. Col. Alexis Bravo, 27th IB commanding officer, admitted what happened but said the incident was a result of “miscommunication and misinterpretation.”

He assured the tribal community that their leader is not a wanted person and that the soldiers merely wanted to speak to him to establish a rapport with them.

“Maybe our troops over-reacted due to a potential threat [that’s why a warning shot was fired],” Bravo said, referring to the apparent resistance shown by some community members who were reportedly armed with indigenous weapons and an air gun.

Days before the incident, security guards of a coffee company wearing military uniforms allegedly intimidated the community, residents said.

The military vowed to investigate this claim.

Bravo said that troops have been deployed in Barangay Ned after confirming that the communist New People’s Army rebels have established a presence in the village.

Sitio Datal Bonlangon is not an NPA-infested community, according to Danyan, who chairs Tamasco.

Bravo said they have never suspected the residents of Sitio Datal Bonlangon as either members or supporters of the NPA, noting they have a former NPA member who returned to the fold of the law recently.

This surrenderee operated in Barangay Ned for a year and he knows the sitios in Barangay Ned that are supporters of the communist movement, the military official said.

Barangay Ned is known for its huge coal deposits.

Bravo said that officials of San Miguel Energy Corp. have informed the military of the company’s operation at the project site. Tamasco members, however, expressed opposition to the mining project.

But following the dialogue, Tamasco members said they would welcome the military if they come to their community.

Bravo said they have “token forces” in the village and that coordination in as far as Sitio Datal Bonlangon is concerned would be given a premium in order to avoid threatening the tribal members. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)