ZAPANTA VALLEY, Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte (MindaNews/21 November)—Returning weary and worried from evacuation centers, ‘bakwits’ (internally-displaced persons) in this upland community got another shock of their lives after finding their homes ransacked, and their farm animals and crops already gone.
“As if being displaced for days was not punishment enough, finding our homes looted came as a severe shock,” said a fuming Verlyn M. Tobes, who lost P33,000 worth of goods from her two sari-sari stores, one in Sitio Ansili and another in Zapanta proper. Thieves left her nothing but one of her nearly a dozen native chickens.
Tobes is one of several residents who returned to this farming plain Friday after staying for more than a week at evacuation centers in Barangay Bangayan proper.
She and her neighbors had to flee for the third time this year after a series of clashes between communist guerrillas and government troops, who pounded rebel positions with artillery and helicopter gunships.
This is the first time however that lootings had occurred while the residents were in evacuation centers. Last Saturday, all evacuees returned to their place.
Barangay Bangayan Councilor Eduardo E. Grino, who counted around 35 burglarized houses, said theft rarely happened in their place.
The sitio’s deserted homes and barns became the easy target for thieves, who carted away valuable belongings, livestock, harvested crops and other farm produce.
Tobes was distraught seeing her belongings strewn about the floor, her kitchen trashed, its cabinets forcibly opened.
Farmer Rodolfo M. Dejolde also found his small store looted and some of the harvested ginger missing. He said he could have brought the ginger to town when they evacuated on Nov. 6 had he known thieves would strike in their sitio.
Datu Lando “Maribujoc” Anlagan, the tribal chieftain of Mamanwas in this area, blamed the military for the looting, though other residents were cautious to say that the looters could be other persons that took advantage of the situation.
“This is too much. They don’t only break into our homes but also steal everything in it,” said Anlagan, referring to the military, after finding his house had been rummaged through and some of his belongings missing.
Footprints of combat boots on looted homes were telltale signs that the military perpetrated the lootings, he alleged
Grino, who is chairman of the Zapanta Valley Forest Reserve Multipurpose Cooperative, said residents here mainly rely on farming and agri-forest products and that the lootings have seriously hurt their livelihood.
Farmers here till a total of 4,416 hectares of farm lands, mostly planted with rice.
Sought for comment, 30th Infantry Battalion commanding officer, Lt. Col. Vincent Iringan, said government troops had nothing to do with the lootings.
“I don’t believe that any soldier will do that. Nasa bukid po ang sundalo at wala sa bahayan,” (The soldiers are in the mountains) Iringan said.
But he offered an advice to residents: “If the people move and they know that nobody will look after their valuable things, they should bring them along.”
Iringan said armed men who constantly badger residents for food and other supplies frequently roam these parts, referring to New People’s Army guerrillas.
“Even hindi nag-operate ang sundalo may mga cases ng theft at burglary na dati. How much more noong na wala sila sa kanilang mga kabahayan?” he said.
He added: “There are those na nagpilit umakyat at kahit alam nila na may operasyon. Anong ginagawa nila doon?” (There are those who insisted on going up even if they knew there was an operation. What did they do there?)
He said troops belonging to the 30th IB had no history of looting and other illegal acts. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)