Agusan ‘bakwits’ return home

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/18 Nov) – After more than a week of being deprived of their livelihood, more than 500 internally displaced persons (IDPs or “bakwits”) returned to their homes in a hinterland village in the municipality of Kitcharao in Agusan del Norte this afternoon, reports said.

Kitcharao Mayor Jenrey E. Montante told MindaNews over telephone that the bakwits trekked back Sitio Zapanta of Barangay Bangayan in Kitcharao after the military assured the local government that it is safe for the people to go back.

Villagers, including members of the Mamanwa tribe, left their homes starting Nov. 6 as the military intensified operations against the New People’s Army, bombarding rebel positions with artillery and helicopter gunships.

Many of the bakwits stayed with their relatives while others preferred to be at the multi-purpose hall near the barangay hall of Bangayan, relying on the help of the local government and cause-oriented groups for food and resources.

Montante said that he has ordered the barangay captain to facilitate the return of the families to their respective homes in the hinterlands.

“If I were to decide, I hope we would find a common goal and solve the issue in a peaceful way. I call on both the military and our brothers in arms to seek a peaceful way to end this conflict,” the mayor said.

He added that “nobody wins” in a bloody war. But everyone ¬– the people, the municipality and the province as a whole – loses, the mayor stressed. “It will just draw us backwards instead of moving forward,” he added.

For a peasant community relying on wood, bamboo gathering and farming for their livelihood, leaving their place was not easy.

“It was hard for us looking for any means of income away from our homes. The relief goods given to us are not enough,” said young mother Jinky Asay when interviewed at the evacuation center last week.

Barangay Captain Nunito V. Senonis said that they have distributed relief goods from the local government and the province since the bakwits started arriving at the barangay hall.

According to Maj. Eugenio Julio Osias IV, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division, the area where the bakwits live was not affected in the operation.

“The place is actually safe. The ongoing operation is not close to where they lived, so they have nothing to be afraid of,” he said. (Erwin Mascarinas / MindaNews)