60 Higaonon families flee as suspected NPA rebels arrive in village  

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 15 January) —  The sight of heavily armed men was enough for some 60 Higaonon families to flee their homes in Sitio Bulahan, Barangay Dansolihon here on Saturday night.

Dansolihon Barangay Chairman Gilbert Nacalaban said the evacuation started Saturday night after residents heard of persistent reports of the presence of suspected communist rebels.

A Higaonon family squeezed themsels inside a small nipa hut at their tribal meeting hall in Barangay Dansoliho, Cagayan de Oro City Saturday, July 14, 2017. Higanon villagers fled their homes in Sitio Bulahan after the rebels arrived in their village. MindaNews photo by FROILAN O. GALLARDO

“I had to make four trips to the village on my pickup and Isuzu truck to ferry the residents. They all look very terrified Nacalaban said.

Two teams from the 58th Infantry Brigade and Cagayan de Oro Police Special Weapons Action Team were on standby at the  police station in Barangay Lumbia awaiting orders to go to Sitio Bulahan.

Senior Inspector Dennis Ebsolo, Lumbia police station chief said they  are still checking whether the armed men were members of the New People’s Army (NPA) as reported by some villagers.

“We have a ceasefire with this group. It is not easy just to confront them because we may violate any standing agreements,” he said.

The government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) have yet to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement but each declared a unilateral ceasefire shortly before the first round of formal peace talks under the Duterte administration in August. The two parties  will hold their third round of formal talks in Rome next week, where they are hope to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

Joel Manuel, a farmer from Sitio Bulahan, said he was walking along a creek when he heard one of the armed men whistle at him and ask for directions.

“They told me their group is the army of the poor and they do not want to harm me or the villagers,” Manuel narrated.

After talking with the armed men, Manuel said he returned to his house and gathered his family to flee, fearing for their safety.

Along the way, he told his neighbors of the presence of the armed men.

“We were scared that we maybe caught in a crossfire between government troops and the rebels. The armed men numbered around 60,” Manuel said.

Capt Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the Army’s 4thInfantry Division said it is highly unlikely that there will be a gun battle between soldiers and the suspected rebels.

He said under the ceasefire agreement, the instruction on incidents like will fall under the jurisdiction of the Philippine National Police.

Martinez said Army units will be on standby and will just provide support to the police. (Froilan O. Gallardo / MindaNews)