Military presence in communities sparks fear among Surigao villagers

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/28 June) – Several residents in remote areas in this city are now in fear because of the presence of military personnel in different communities.

Junribel Bustillo, a resident of Barangay Mat-i, said that the presence of soldiers in Sitio Pinaypayan has caused fear among his neighbors. He revealed that the Army personnel are now sheltering in the houses of some residents.

Barangay Mat-i, which is besieged by insurgency problem, is about 10 kilometers away from the city proper.

The military’s presence, Bustillo said, would endanger the residents’ lives once a clash with rebels would occur.

He pointed out that at least 30 soldiers have been staying in Sitio Pinaypayan – which hosts more than 70 households that depend primarily on small-scale mining and farming – for more than one week now.

Pinaypayan hosts to more than 70 households, whose livelihood depends primarily on small scale mining and farming.

Bustillo said soldiers should keep away from populated area their rules of engagement dictate.

“They should be moved at least 100 meters away from the populated areas for humanitarian considerations,” he said.

MindaNews visited Pinaypayan and saw military personnel staying in some houses while others are at the waiting shed.

Asked for comment, military personnel refused to answer questions, saying only their officials in 30th Infantry Battalion based in Placer town can speak about the matter.

In Sitio Brazil, which hosts 82 households, residents expressed the same fear because of the presence of the Army.

Resident Jucy Salado said they have no idea where to go in case a shooting war between the communist rebels and the soldiers erupts.

She said that for now, the soldiers are staying in their purok, a populated area. “The houses are just next to each other,” Salado said in the vernacular.

Maj. Amadeo U. Cruz, of the 30IB, denied that the troops are lingering in people’s houses. He said the soldiers are only conducting house-to-house visits purposely to conduct a survey in order to know the social problems in the areas.

He said residents are given forms to fill up, which he claimed is part of the military’s community organizing for peace and development program, supposedly aimed at helping people to help themselves in their livelihood.

Cruz said 200 soldiers, coming from six different battalions, are deployed to selected areas in Surigao del Norte, like in Barangay Mat-i.

He said their goal is to give services and answer the needs of the people.

“If people in the area have health problems, for example, we will request the Department of Health to extend services in the area,” he said, adding that they have also coordinated with provincial officials.

“People should not be in fear because we are their protector,” he said.

Cruz assured that no human rights violations will be committed by the soldiers in the area, noting that if there would be violations, the soldiers themselves will suffer the consequences. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)