STATEMENT: It’s happening again! Residents of Lumad communities fear for their lives

The military men arrived in the lumad communities of Simowao and Emerald and brought with them two (2) 6×6 military trucks of which one was loaded with rice and foodstuffs; two (2) armored personnel carrier (APC) with the label of SEMIRARA and two (2) 105 howitzer cannons.  They mounted makeshift tents in the vicinity of the houses of the residents and converted an unfinished sari-sari store into a military station in Emerald. A certain Major Ental and Captain Oson led the group of, according to the military men, around one hundred soldiers in Simowao alone.

At Manluy-a, around one hundred (100) military men in full battle gear arrived and stayed at the houses of the community folks. Others rested and slept at the houses of local residents, school and surrounding areas. Around 4–10 military personnel stationed themselves at the houses of the residents.

The military elements have put up checkpoints and have been monitoring the activities of local residents. Residents were asked for their names, present their IDs and/or cedulas and had their names listed.  Celphone numbers of residents and teachers were asked and listed.  Bags and belongings were checked by the military. Motor drivers were asked for their names, driver’s license and the motor vehicle serial numbers.

In the evening, some military men stayed in their makeshift tents while quite a number stayed and slept in the houses of residents. Some military men even slept beside the local residents.

They interrogated Tribal Filipino Community School teachers and students about the school.  Military personnel who lived in the houses of residents frequently ask questions to the children on their involvement with the New People’s Army. Children were asked if they have elder brothers or sisters that joined the NPA and that they must surrender.

One young man named Ritchie Enot, 19 years of age from Upper Oregon, San Isidro was arrested by the military while he was harvesting rattan at Venus forest area. The young man was then forced to guide the military in operation. He was freed on November 15, 2007 four (4) days after his arrest, when relatives demanded his freedom from the battalion headquarters at St. Christine, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

The military warned the school children, teachers of the Tribal Filipino Program, Inc. and the local residents that if they (military) will be bombed during their military operations, they will harm the civilians.

The military presence violates the residents’ sense of security. Residents do not leave their houses at night even for waste disposal afraid of being harmed by military personnel who stationed themselves in their houses. Movements and economic activities of residents were limited and monitored by the military. They were restricted from going to their farmlands. There were families that only ate once a day due to the restrictions set for going to their farmlands.  Five (5) families from Panukmoan had sought refuge with the community of Manluy-a for fear of the military operations. On November 17, 2007, more than 40 households from Magkahunao, San Agustin, evacuated to Janipaan Elementary School in fear of the military men who arrived in their community. Three (3) families of Emerald lived only from the foodstuff contribution of other local folks.

Residents at Emerald and Simowao have expressed the need for evacuation because of hunger and fear.

The tribal leaders and elders of Emerald, Simowao and other neighboring communities have asked the leaders and officers of the Local Government Units and the Armed Forces of the Philippines:

1.    That, the military personnel refrain from staying at the houses of the civilians;

2.    That, economic activities would not be restricted;

3.    That, the military personnel would not stay and sleep in the community schools;

4.    That, the military personnel would protect and respect the projects and services initiated by the Local Government Units and the Non-government organizations in the community/ies;

5.    That, foodstuff and other basic commodities would not be restricted and;

6.    The lives of the civilians would be secured.

No action has been taken by the LGU and the military. (Karapatan Surigao del Sur)

For Reference, contact: Rev. Modesto Villasanta Or Atty. Antonio Azarcon