Mamanwas flee Surigao Norte village as mil op intensifies

SAN ISIDRO, Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte (MindaNews/26 March) — The shooting last Friday of a Mamanwa in Barangay Camam-onan allegedly by soldiers belonging to the 30th Infantry Battalion has forced other tribal villagers to evacuate.

Saying they fear they might become the next victims, the Mamanwas from the communities of Pagbangayan, Katikuyan, Bongogon and Kalatinga numbering 66 families or 259 individuals have sought refuge in an island formed by silt, near the dam in Baoy River in this barangay.

Datu Geni Calisangan of Bongogon said they got scared after Balodoy Enano was shot allegedly by soldiers while gathering firewood together with three other men.

Enano was hit in the left chest and is now recuperating at Caraga Regional Hospital in Surigao City. His situation was said to have stabilized.

But prior to this incident, Calisangan said they also felt extreme fear when helicopters bombed their area early this month. “We don’t want this to continue,” he said in the vernacular.

He recalled that last year a tribe member named Ayong Hubasan was also shot and his body has remained missing.

Fellow Mamanwas accused military personnel as the culprits.

“They (soldiers) shot them even if they were just cutting trees and were just carrying hatchets,” Mario Catubigan, a council member of the tribe from Bongogon said.

Calisangan said firefights between government troops and rebels happen from time to time but they have become used to these.

He said this is the first time that they moved to a place far from their communities. He added they were also displaced sometime in 2008 but they only fled to neighboring sitios.

He said the number of evacuees may double as some of their members in neighboring communities have decided to also leave their homes after securing their animals and farm yield.

Evelyn Catubigan, of Sitio Pagbangayan said she would rather die of hunger at the evacuation site here rather than live in fear in their community.

“We want to live in peace,” she said.

She admitted that communist go to their area but that they don’t stay there.

Caman-onan barangay council members Santos Bentulan Jr. and Vilma E. Coter said the military should secure civilians before conducting military operations.

They likewise urged the military to stop the operations to enable the people to resume their normal lives.

For his part, Lt. Col. Vincent B. Iringan, commanding officer of the 30th Infantry Battalion denied accusations his soldiers shot Enano saying it’s the same old, fabricated story.

“What if the culprit is another person and it was just blamed on the soldiers? We no longer commit human rights violations,” Iringan said, adding the rebels are now the human rights violators.

He challenged the victim to file cases against the military in court.

“We will see them in court. Ginagawa tayong tanga ng mga yan (They’re making fools of us) with their fabricated stories. Lahat tayo ginagawang katawa tawa nila (They’re making all of us look ridiculous), don’t you think so?,” the military official said.

“Naniwala pa ba kayo sa kwento nila? Parati naman ganyan. Parati na lang ang reason for displacement is military operations. Hindi naman kami pweding huminto ng operations hanggang may armado,” (Do you still believe in their story? It’s always been the same. They always say that the reason for displacement is military operations. We cannot possibly stop our operations while there are armed men there)  Iringan said.

“Bakit di nila sisihin mga armado na siyang rason (Why don’t they blame the armed group which is the reason) for our operations? They are illegitimate, di ba?,” he said.

Meanwhile, the evacuees were worried they might be swept away by floodwaters if heavy rains came.

But Calisangan said the people still felt safe since the weather was still dry.

He asked for medicines for some children and old women who have fallen ill.

Yesterday, Kalatinga tribal chieftain Arnel Nayer’s wife Narsing complained of nausea and vomiting and was seeking assistance from local government officials.

Town Mayor Arturo Carlos Egay Sr., said he has tasked the municipal social workers to validate the number of evacuees, although he did not say what help the local government can give to them.

Evelyn Maceren of the National Commission Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in Surigao del Norte went to the area and listed the names of the evacuees.

Maceren said Taganito Mining Company (TMC) has promised to extend assistance.

She also said she asked the help of government agencies like the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the office of Governor Sol F. Matugas.

“We were advised to go to the DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government and the DSWD because we can’t support them (evacuees). We will accompany them to the governor’s office, DILG and DSWD,” she added. (Roel N. Catoto and Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)