Forty families belonging to the Manobo tribe have already returned to their village in Lianga, Surigao del Sur with the help of the Philippine Army and various government agencies.
1Lt. Krisjuper Andreo Punsalan, civil-military operations officer of the Army's 3rd Special Forces Battalion (3SFBn), said the residents returned to Sitio Simuwao (Kilometer 9) in Barangay Diatagon a week after evacuating the area following the series of alleged harassments and intimidation by communist guerillas.
The Manobo families settled temporarily in neighboring Sitio Neptune, near an Army detachment. Their ordeal started on February 21 when the New People's Army (NPA) allegedly fired an M203 grenade launcher that injured three civilians.
Datu Constancio Duhac, the Manobo municipal tribal chieftain, said they felt safer to be living temporarily near a military detachment
“The tribe went home because the military assured their safety. If the Army will not be around, we will evacuate. We need the Army to protect us from the Communist NPA Terrorists (CNTs),” Duhac said Friday.
According to the tribal leader, the residents in Kilometer 9 have been requesting the presence of the military in their area to secure them from the harassments of the NPA.
In previous statements, the 3SFBn said the NPA harassments were designed to sow fear among the residents in the area to force them to evacuate and blame it on the military.
The military has blamed the indigenous people's (IP) group, Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU), for helping the NPA organize the scheme, called "taktikang bakwit" (evacuation tactic).
Duhac hopes the presence of the Army in the area will pave way for the construction of a government-run tribal school in the village.
Lt. Col. Joey Baybayan, 3SFBn commander, said: “The IP community is now enlightened. Usually, during evacuations, they would usually demand the withdrawal of the Army from their community."
"Now they realize that it’s the NPA that terrorize their communities, not the soldiers," Bayabayan said, assuring the residents of the Army's presence in their village to keep the NPA at bay.
Hawudon Jumar Bucales, the Indigenous Peoples’ Mandatory Representative (IPMR) of Lianga town, also thanked the local and provincial governments for providing food and other assistance to the evacuees.
Bucales also urged the evacuees who went with MAPASU to return home and join the other families "who now want to receive development interventions from the government, including the establishment of an IP school".
Meanwhile, Col. Allan Hambala, commander of the Army's 401st Infantry Brigade, said that the recent developments in Diatagon reflect the success of President Rodrigo Duterte's Executive Order No. 70.
EO 70 institutionalizes the "whole-of-nation" approach to end local communist armed conflicts in the countryside.
Source: Philippines News Agency