By CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN
SAN AGUSTIN, Surigao del Sur -- The displaced lumad villagers may soon return home to their hinterland communities after the military has agreed in a dialogue here on Monday that they would pull out an Army detachment in the sub village of Simuwao.Father Ritchel Navarro of Iglesia Filipina Independiente in Surigao who represents Higala: Friends of the Lumads, a church-backed civili society organization, said a multi-sectoral group has surveyed Simuwao and other areas to check if there is still presence of the detachment before they will decide to let the evacuees return home.
After 16 days of staying at a cramped village gym of Diatagon in Lianga town, the displaced some 1,600 Manobo villagers decided to hike 90 kilometers to Tandag City to seek safer and secured sanctuary at the oval grounds of the Provincial Sports Complex, the same area where they stayed for a year in 2015.
But as the exodus of the evacuees that includes small children in tow reached this town , police and military blocked their way that prompted the dialogue initiated by local officials, church leaders, military and police officials.
Lt. Col. Jaime Datuin, commanding officer of the 75th Infantry Battalion, however has clarified the soldiers never harassed and blocked them but instead they talked to them to have a dialogue at the town hall to come up with a peaceful solution that will pave the way for the evacuees safe return to their communities.
At the dialogue, Navarro said the evacuees asked the military to stop setting up military detachments near the civilian populace and never allow patrolling soldiers go near the communities not even staying inside the residents homes.
Datuin has agreed with the proposal saying there would be no more permanent military detachments or fixed patrol base only mobile checkpoints while they are conducting military operations.
He assured that the detachment in Simuwao which has triggered the evacuation of the lumads in nine communities will be dismantled.
“I also told them that soldiers are not allowed to stay inside the homes of the civilians and if one of my men will violate my order, they can report their complaint directly to me,” Datuin said.
Datuin however warned that soldiers may be obliged to go inside the civilian community if they spotted some armed men roaming around the neighborhood.
The evacuees were mostly from the remote communities of Magkahunao, Yadawan, New Kabulohan and Old Kabulohan in the village of Buhisan in San Agustin town, and Simowao, Emerald, Han-ayan, Man-luy-a, Kilometer 14, Decoy, Mike, Kilometer 16 and Panukmuan in the village of Diatagon in Lianga town.
The evacuees decided to leave their temporary shelter at the Diatagon gym when food was scarce because all food donations had to be screened at the Incident Command Post (ICP) run by the municipal disaster risk reduction office and other government agencies before reaching them.
They stayed there since July 16 after fleeing their homes fearing hostilities between New peoples Army rebels and government soldiers in their hinterland villages.
A statement from the “lumad” group Mapasu said villagers feared the presence of soldiers from the 75th Infantry Battalion, led by a certain Captain Borromeo, who set up a military detachment in the community of Simowao early last month as the 36th Infantry Battalion launched counterinsurgency operations in the area.
The military tagged the evacuees’ villages as part of Andap Valley Complex, an area largely influenced by communist rebels.
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