By CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN
LIANGA, Surigao del Sur—Some 2,000 Manobo lumads from nine hinterland communities of this town fled their homes anew fearing an imminent military operation after they saw a military helicopter hovering around their villages past Wednesday midnight. Bishop Modesto Villasanta, of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines who chairs the human rights group Karapatan in Surigao del Sur, said the displaced residents are now seeking refuge at Simowao Tribal Community School in the sub village of Emerald.
The lumad evacuees have planned to move to safer area as their evacuation center either at the Barangay Hall of Diatagon or at the oval grounds of the provincial sports complex in Tandag City where they used to stay there for a year until September 1 last year.
Classes were also disrupted affecting some 800 students and 43 volunteer teachers from Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) and five other neighboring lumad schools run by the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur .
Villasanta said Karapatan and the Friends of Lumad in Caraga will meet with Gov. Vicente Pimentel at the provincial capitol to ask his permission to allow the lumad evacuees temporary stay once more at the oval.
He said the displaced villagers have just started rebuilding their farms, homes and schools after they, along with 17 other lumad communities, were forced to evacuate for a year in Tandag City after the killing of their two leaders in the sub village of Han-ayan where the ALCADEV school is located.
The two tribal leaders, Dionel Campos, chairperson of Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU) and ALCADEV Executive Director Emerito Samarca were gunned down in the massacre in September 1, 2015 believed to be perpetrated by militiamen who were accompanying operating troops of the 75th Infantry Battalion (75IB).
According to the reports relayed by the lumad evacuees, Army troopers belonging to 75IB, 36th Infantry Battalion and 6th Special Forces Battalion have been conducting military operations in the lumad communities in Lianga, San Migue and San Agusatin towns since Monday.
A stricter military checkpoint was placed in front of the military detachment in Post 1, in the village of Diatagon requiring residents and visitors to the schools to show their ID or write their names in a logbook as part of the Martial Law in Mindanao.
Col. Franco Nemesio Gacal, commanding officer of the 402nd Army Brigade based in Tandag City, however explained to local mediamen in an interview on Thursday that the military chopper was just passing by the sub village in Han-ayan not hovering around them as the lumad evacuees claimed since the area is a normal part of their route.
He also said the Army patrol base in Diatagon has been there for a long time that the checking of people passing by the area is just normal standard operating schedule.
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