Bayan Muna rep asks Surigao mayor to help Mamanwa evacuees

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/14 June) – Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Teddy A. Casiño appealed last week to City Mayor Ernesto T. Matugas to assist the Mamanwa evacuees who have been camping for more than two weeks at a private lot in Barangay Luna here.

“I am personally making an appeal. I see that that they live on charity from NGOs and private individuals. As the host government, it is a moral obligation of the city to extend support if only for humanitarian reasons,” Casiño told MindaNews.

Around 150 Mamanwas arrived in Barangay Luna two weeks ago to escape fighting between government troops and communist rebels in Sitio Zapanta, Barangay Bangayan in Kitcharao.

The militant leader was in the city on Friday to visit Bayan Muna’s indigent program at the Caraga Regional Hospital and the launching of the mobile “Lamayan ng Bayan.” Casiño disclosed that Bayan Muna has forked out P2 million from its pork barrel to the Caraga regional hospital to help assist indigent patients.

He also visited the temporary shelter of 37 Mamanwa families at a property of provincial board member Leonilo Aldonza at Sitio Bacud, Barangay Luna on the same day. He was welcomed by Vice Mayor Danilo Menor in the absence of the mayor.

Casiño said he would have personally brought this matter to Mayor Matugas but unfortunately the latter was not around. The mayor was at the oath-taking of her sister-in-law, Surigao del Norte Gov. Sol F. Matugas, in Malacañang as the new Regional Development Council (RDC) chairperson for Caraga Region.

“I plan to communicate personally my appeal and will ask the mayor to help in any way these people who are clearly in need, and not to treat them as nuisance or outcast but as human beings,” the solon said.

Casiño said it might do the mayor good to visit the victims “and not rely on third party information.” He was apparently referring to the mayor’s decision to facilitate the return of the victims to their homes as soon as possible.

The congressman assailed earlier reports that the Mamanwas and the groups that helped in their evacuation had arbitrarily chosen Surigao City as the evacuation site. He pointed out that the Mamanwas, after staying for five days in Agusan del Norte, apparently did not feel secure, aside from the fact that they did not get support from the local government there.

Casiño belied accusations that the evacuees are fake and that it is a politically orchestrated move by certain politicians. “To claim that they are fake betrays the real condition of these people,” he said.

He pointed out that the Mamanwas left their houses, belongings and animals and now sleep in an unfamiliar place with inhospitable conditions. “No one would want to go into this much trouble just for the sake of propaganda,” he stressed.

The solon posed a challenge to critics to “not be blind on the impact of military operations to civilians.”

He said he intends to conduct a meeting with the military top brass and with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to “look into this matter to ensure their (victims) rights are properly addressed.”

But he said that it will eventually be up to the tribal folks’ decision if they should go home or not. “All they want is an assurance that there will be no more military operations in their area in the future,” Casiño said.

“At the minimum, all we are asking is that respect for their human rights is upheld,” the solon added. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)