SPECIAL REPORT: The tribal evacuation controversy unfolded
The tribal community reportedly came from a war-zone Zapanta Valley in Barangay Bangayan, Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte, triggered suspicions among city’s top local officials, business sector including City Mayor Ernesto Matugas on the possible breach of peace in the booming commercial district in Luna in the coming days.
Existing local residents in Sitio Bacud also drafted a formal petition letter signed by majority inhabitants including two barangay officials of Luna expressing their utmost opposition on the establishment of a tribal settlement in their area, even if they said, only temporary.
Sources revealed that it was Provincial Board Member Nilo Aldonza, administrator of the property owned by the Cortes family in Sitio Bacud was the one offering the area as a temporary refugee camp of the displaced tribal community.
Aldonza in a radio interview said it’s only a gesture of reciprocating goodwill to Bayan Muna, which organization had extended various projects to Barangay Luna especially during the construction of their Barangay Hall. The Bayan Muna party list group was reportedly the one asking assistance to Board Member Aldonza to take part on the temporary settlement of the lumads pending the unstable peace situation in their homeland Zapanta Valley in Kitcharao.
Caught by surprise
Speaking in a local radio program, City Mayor Ernesto Matugas, said he was caught by surprise upon reading the petition letter forwarded by the Sitio Bacud residents asking the city government to take action on the issue. Matugas felt like facing a blank wall as he’s taking clue on the motive and underlying premise following the sudden evacuation of these 37 lumad families in Surigao City.
“They don’t even pay courtesy to the office of the city mayor as to their plans with these displaced Mamanwas”
“They should inform me about this situation especially that the city has been through quite disturbed situation in just few days”.
Matugas put the blame to Provincial Board Member Nilo Aldonza and Luna Barangay Captain Alfredo Dacuron in allowing this sudden migration of Lumads to take place in Surigao.
“What assurance can we have that this settlement is just temporary? And how can we say that there will be no untoward incidents to take place especially, we don’t know the backgrounds of these people and their culture….Even the barangay kagawads of Luna were against this and they even signed the petition letter sent to my office”, he said.
Matugas called on the member of the City Peace and Order Council for an emergency meeting and immediately formed a special task force to handle the crisis. The task force have decided to allow the immediate return of the displaced Mamanwas to their area as soon as possible following the confirmation of Lt. Col. Erwin Rommel Lamzon, 30IB Philippine Army Commanding Officer that Zapanta Valley is already been peaceful and secured.
Mr. Genasque Enriquez, Secretary General of Kahugpongan Sa Lumadnong Organisasyun (KASALO) of Caraga, an organization who assisted the 37 tribal families on their evacuation told the Karaga News Central that the settlement is only temporary in nature. Enriquez said that the tribal community decided to leave their homeland due to a disturbed peace situation following the constant encounter between the CPP-NPA and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Enriquez said that the Lumads have nothing to choose but to leave their place amid the armed conflict and intense militarization. The local government unit even of Agusan del Norte have failed to provide them comfort which prompted them and seek refuge to a peaceful location by the help of some Non Governmental Organizations like the KASALO, The Bayan Muna and other cause oriented groups and medical volunteers.
Ms. Rosalie Caindoy, volunteer midwife of the Community Based Health Program of the Diocese of Tandag, an NGO assisting the medical needs in the refugee camp told this paper that there was only minor health problem encountered within their stint in the evacuation site. However, she appealed to those who have in help to extend anything that could augment their medical equipment and medicines for the displaced evacuees.
Bayan Muna Role
“We are just here to assist and helped these Mamanwas. The Bayan Muna organization is primarily tasked to help those voiceless minority and oppressed in our community..Thus, following the mandates of our organization, we responded the call from our brother lumads who were just victims of circumstances brought out by massive armed conflict and militarization in their area”, Mr. Edgar Canda, Bayan Muna Provincial Coordinator said.
Canda stressed that it’s just so unfortunate that they are being perceived and branded as adherent to the underground which is not in real sense.
“It’s maybe because of our progressive stands toward various issues concerning our country and its people. That is why Bayan Muna is taking part in the mainstream of politics to bring out voices of the voiceless in the hall of congress”.
Bayan Muna Party List Representative Teddy Casiño recently visited the refugee camp in Sitio Bacud and personally assessed the actual conditin of the evacuees and has extended additional help like foods, medical supplies and other necessary needs in the temporary refugee camp.
Casiño in an exclusive interview said the Surigaonons really need to understand the plight of these Mamanwas. He urged the community to deeply comprehend the culture of this tribal group which they themselves could hardly handle the fears and experiences they gone through.
Congressman Casiño also stressed that the local government including the business community should not take the issue as a threat to security and refrain from co-relating the two burning incidents happening in the past weeks to the tribal evacuation which he described as plain humanitarian crisis.
In the law enforcement side, everything is taking care off especially on the aspect of human rights of these Mamanwas, Col. Erwin Rommel Lamzon, Commanding Officer of the 30th IB Python Battalion based in Bad-as, Placer told the Karaga News Central.
Lamzon disclosed that it was a legitimate operation they conducted in Zapanta Valley on the morning of May 26 where an armed engagement took place between the government forces and the New Peoples Army.
Lamzon also dismissed the accusations of human rights violation during their military operation in Zapanta Valley.
“We are taking assurance that this tribal community will always be protected from the lawless elements where during that time already been encroaching their houses… What we wanted is only to restore the normalcy of the situation” Lamzon added.
The army official also confirmed that the situation in Zapanta Valley has already been restored and it’s all right for the Lumads to return home safely. (By: Natz Corbeta, Publisher/Editor, Karaga News Central)