GIGAQUIT, Surigao del Norte (MindaNews / 7 Dec) – Afraid that they will be caught in a crossfire, at least 211 Mamanwas in 43 families are still seeking shelter in the lower areas in Sitio Banban, Barangay Camam-onan here.
For 24 days, the Mamanwas led by Datu Esteban Naer have been staying at the shelters in Sitio Banban, a three-hour walk from their homes in Sitio Kalatingga, also part of Camam-onan.
Naer claimed they were forced to flee their homes when they heard exchange of gunfire between military forces and communist rebels on November 13. “The battle is so near our place, maybe just 100 meters away,” Naer told MindaNews on Saturday at their shelter.
After they heard the shots, the rest of his flock made an exodus, leaving behind their animals and farmlands.
“Two old men were left at our place. We don’t know until now if they are still alive,” he said in Surigaonon.
Naer said they could have returned right away had there been no more firefights. “We have been longing to go back to our homes in Kalatingga so we can attend to our farmlands,” he added.
But a few days after November 13 clash, Naer said fighter planes dropped bombs as mortars keep on pounding areas in Zapanta Valley. Meanwhile, there were still exchange of gunshots, he added.
“Its was so frightening as bomb explosions were very loud,” Naer said.
He said it was not their first time to evacuate the area. They fled their homes, too, in 2012 and 2013 due to skirmishes.
“We are not comfortable in here and we are running out of food. The kids get sick and we are all getting sick,” Naer lamented.
He said some of the families are seeking shelters in other areas, mostly in relatives’ homes.
“We are packed like sardines in one of the huts here,” Naer added.
“I wish we could go back to our homes and go back to work in our farms,” he said.
Naer and some members of the tribe’s counsel of elders expressed dismay that they have not been recognized by the government as internally displaced persons, or “bakwits” in the vernacular.
“It hurts that the government don’t believe we evacuated. Now that we are here in Banban, far from our homes, what would they call us?” asked Ronnel Anrique, one of the elders.
Indayflor Bangga, Camam-onan barangay chairman, said the Mamanwas have no reason to evacuate since fighting did not occur in their area.
“The war happened in Zapanta Valley in Kitcharao town in Agusan del Norte. While it is true that gunshots can be heard, more so the bombs dropped by fighter planes, and rounds fired from mortars, the battle is far from their place,” she stressed.
Bangga urged the Mamanwas to go home.
When asked by MindaNews, Bangga admitted she was not at Sitio Kalatingga when the firefight broke out.
Gigaquit Mayor Carlos Egay earlier told MindaNews that there is no evacuation.
But the local government unit of Gigaquit gave two sacks of rice to the Mamanwas who are seeking refuge at Banban.
Lt. Col. Arsenio Sadural, commanding officer of the 30th Infantry Battalion, also told MindaNews there was no fighting that happened at the Mamanwas’ place. But he admitted that tribesmen did hear gunshots.
“We told the Mamanwas under Datu Naer to remain calm because the area of operations is quite far and directed against the lawless armed group,” assured Sadural.
On Saturday, a multi-sectoral group called Surigao Cares delivered sacks of relief goods to the evacuees despite the bad roads that they had to cross three rivers with strong current.
Edgar Canda, one of the group’s facilitators, said they were able to distribute the relief goods to the evacuees in Barangay Lahi.
“Even though these are not enough but at least we are able to send help to the evacuees,” Canda said.
He said each family got 10 kilos of rice, cans of sardines, a kilo of sugar, packs of coffee and noodles, medicines, among others.