67 Manobo families in Surigao flee homes

SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 01 March) – Sixty-seven Manobo families in hinterland sitios in Surigao del Sur fled their homes Friday, fearing hostilities between the Army and the New People’s Army (NPA) might escalate a week after an explosion injured three persons, including a five-year old girl.

Maricres Pagaran, coordinator of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation) or Mapasu said Army soldiers fired at a house where several people were watching television in Sitio Emerald on February 21, wounding three victims including a five-year old girl. The roof of the house was also damaged.

But the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Battalion, in a press statement, said the NPA was behind the indiscriminate firing of an M-203 grenade launcher that wounded Andrea Gallergo, 55;  Marimar Terse, 19; and Reynafe Calipay, 5, all residing in Sitio Emerald.

The civil military officer of  the 3rd SF Battalion, 1st Lt. Krisjuper Andreo Punsalan, said their Community Support Team medics immediately applied first-aid and brought the wounded to the Lianga District Hospital.

The displaced residents of Sitio Simowao and Sitio Emerald sought refuge in the neighboring sitios of Km. 16, Han-ayan and Kabulohan. Pagaran said residents claimed the military threatened to harm them if the troops are attacked by the NPA.

The evacuees, Pagaran said, narrated they found it hard to sleep at night and go to their farms because of the military’s threats.

Among those who evacuated are four teachers and 62 students of Simowao Community Learning Center run by the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (Trifpss).  Pagaran said the displaced students  will continue going to school in the function halls of Trifpss in Sitios Han-ayan and Kabulohan.

The military alleged that the firing of the grenade launcher was a conspiracy of the NPA and Mapasu to harass the community and lay the blame on soldiers who set up detachments in the Lumad (Indigenous Peoples) hinterland communities to trigger the NPA’s “Taktikang Bakwit (Evacuation Tactic).

“The alleged harassment plan of Mapasu and the NPAs revealed by the informant materialized,”

Lt. Col. Joey Baybayan, commanding officer of the 3rd SF Battalion, said an informant revealed to them the “alleged harassment plan of Mapasu and the NPA” and that these two groups “conspired to terrorize the community.”

Pagaran denied the allegation.

Baybayan said they have a lead on the suspects, who, he said, were mostly members of the Mapasu.

Col. Allan Hambala, commander of the 401st Army Brigade, said this is a “desparate and terroristic move” of the NPA “because the ongoing development in Kilometer 9 greatly hurts them,” referring to an ongoing road project.  (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)