By Mike Crismundo
More than 2,000 villagers have fled their homes for fear of being caught in the crossfire that might erupt between government security forces and communist insurgents in the mountain villages of Lianga town in Surigao del Sur province.
The highland villagers, mostly members of the Manobo tribe, fled their homes and farmlands beginning Monday, July 3, 2017 up to Wednesday, in the sitios of Panac-moan, Han-ayan, Dikoy, Manluy-a, Sitio Kilometer 14 and Emerald, all of Barangay Diatagon, in Lianga town.
Karapatan, a human rights group based in Surigao del Sur attributed the exodus of the highland villagers to the military presence in the lumad communities of Lianga, San Miguel and San Agustin towns, in Surigao del Sur province, since July 3, 2017, saying that the military movements caused fear among the villagers.
Combat maneuvering troops of the 75th Infantry Battalion (75th IB), 36th IB and 6th Special Forces Battalion had been deployed in Surigao del Sur province since 2015, particularly in Lianga town to crush the remaining New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.
The command group of the Army’s 402nd Infantry (Stingers) Brigade led by Col. Franco Nemesio Gacal based in Tandag City, said the field units in the province had been extending a “helping hand” to village communities, in relation to their ongoing peace and development program.
The highland villagers have been temporarily sheltered at Simowao Tribal Community School and nearby Emerald village of that same town, with some villagers living with relatives in Sitio Kilometer 9 of Barangay Diatagon.
Students of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), Inc. and volunteer teachers of six Tribal Filipino Community Schools run by the Tribal Filipino Program in the affected communities have also evacuated. Classes of the 633 Lumad students have been disrupted with the suspension of classes due to the evacuation.
It was gathered that Bishop Modesto Villasanta of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, chairman of the human rights group Karapatan in Surigao del Sur, will ask Gov. Vicente T. Pimentel to allow the use of the Surigao del Sur Sports Complex in Tandag City as temporary shelter for the evacuees.
Meanwhile, Surigao del Sur Gov. Pimentel dispatched officials and personnel of the provincial disaster risk reduction and management council to assess the reported new evacuees in Lianga town.
The regional office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) based here is also set to deploy social workers to check the reported evacuees in Lianga town for possible relief assistance, DSWD 13 Regional Director Mita Chuchi G. Lim told The Manila Bulletin on Saturday.