Malaybalay bishop asks soldiers, rebels to leave Upper Pulangi

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/10 February) – Malaybalay Bishop Jose A. Cabantan has called for the demilitarization of city’s Upper Pulangi district noting the increased military presence in the area since January last year after the reported sightings of New People’s Army.

Cabantan told the 42nd Diocesan Pastoral Assembly this week the presence of the NPA and the military in the area has become “a case of concern for the whole Diocese.”

He said the NPA and the military should leave the area and keep it as a “peace zone.”

He told MindaNews Thursday night he simply echoed the concern raised by Fr. Peter Walpole, SJ, who heads the Apu Palamguwan Education Center (APC) in Bendum, Busdi, one of the barangays in Upper Pulangi.

He said classes in the school for Lumads or indigenous peoples were stopped in January over reports of rebel presence.

The area should remain peaceful for the children to continue going to school, he added.

The bishop said the APC has helped address the socio-cultural needs of the indigenous peoples in the area especially the children and the youth.

“It is sad to note that the serene atmosphere was disturbed by the presence of armed groups. First the presence of the New People’s Army and now the military,” he said in his letter to Col. Romeo Gapuz,
commander of the 403rd Infantry Brigade dated February 8.

Cabantan said that aside from the disruption of classes “the lives of the people were affected.”

“As a bishop in the diocese, I support all the queries of Fr. Walpole expressing their confusion about the extended presence of the military,” he said.

He cited the importance of the Upper Pulangi area, in Bukidnon’s boundary with Agusan del Sur, as the headwater of the Pulangi River, Mindanao’s biggest river system.

Cabantan further noted the military’s alleged involvement in discussions on mining in the area.

“We have just suffered the wrath of Sendong and here we still continue to engage in this kind of venture?” he added.

He also questioned the efforts of the military in pursuing development work which he said is the function of the civil bureaucracy.

But the bishop clarified that they were only “seeking clarity and fair process because people are confused and fearful.”

“We are writing to your good office with good will praying and hoping that peace will reign in the community and the children can resume in their classes,” he added.

Capt. Eduardo Meclat, brigade spokesperson, told MindaNews Thursday the military has conducted “continuous monitoring” in the area and some development activities to help the community such as forums and free haircut.

He said it is the barangay governments who helped them set up their detachment.

But Meclat admitted that the 8th Infantry Battalion has set up a base in Barangay St. Peter composed of Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit members, aside from the detachments of the Special Cafgu
Active Auxiliary (SCAA) in Barangays Caburacanan and Zamboanguita.

The city government has funded the SCAA.

Cabantan in an SMS to MindaNews Friday afternoon said Fr. Walpole has reported about the pullout of the military [from Bendum] and that classes will resume on Monday. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)