By CRIS DIAZ,
with GERRY GORIT,
and RUEL PELONE
Mindanao Daily News
CAGAYAN de Oro City--The evacuees in Opol, Misamis Oriental, mostly children and women, have swelled to 576 Wednesday after a group of firearm-wielding individuals were seen in the town’s four hinterland communities since last week, the municipal disaster officials said.
As of August 9, there were already 124 families or 576 individuals who fled their homes in the villages of Nangcaon, Tingalan, Limonda and Cauyonan and are now staying at Opol’s evacuation site, said Engr. Romnel Lunoy, chief of the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.
Lunoy said that the number was 276 higher than the reported number of evacuees reported Tuesday.
The figure could increase as more people have expressed their intent to stay at the town’s temporary shelter until their communities are cleared of armed insurgents, said Opol Mayor Maximino Seno.
The evacuees leave home in the four hinterland villages in the municipal town of Opol Monday afternoon as the military mounted a combat operation in the area following reports of sightings of about 100 heavily armed rebels of the New People’s Army (NPA).
Lunoy said that the evacuees, 245 of them children, are now housed in evacuation centers in Opol. Classes for the children were also held at the evacuation centers in order that their studies would not be disrupted, he said.
Although there is the lack of clothing, blankets and sleeping mats, the evacuees were given food and medical assistance under a “tight budget,” Lunoy said.
He said that the evacuees came from the village of Kaayoman only. The MDRRMO is ready to evacuate the residents in the three other villages of Tinggalan, Nangka-on, and Limonda, anytime on orders of the local government.
“We [MDRRMO] is on standby. Our vehicles and rescue equipment are in place. We are ready to move at any moment’s notice,” Lunoy said.
According to Lunoy, the village councils in the four hinterland villages have already declared a state of calamity in their areas, allowing the municipal government to release funds intended for the evacuees.
If the evacuees would swell further in the coming days, the local government unit of Opol would open more evacuation centers in the town, Lunoy said.
He said that farmers in the hinterlands in Misamis Oriental usually evacuate every time a combat military operation is conducted in the area for fear of being caught in the crossfire.
The evacuees would only return home once the military issues an order after conducting a clearing of the villages.
“So far, there were no reports of armed encounters in the hinterlands of Opol since the reported sighting of the NPA was reported Tuesday,” Lunoy said.
Seno said the military, who are searching for the guerrillas in the four barangays, have reported they have not seen any insurgents in the area, as of Wednesday.
“The Army told me the people can go home if they wish to, but I don’t want them to, for now,” Seno said Wednesday, adding he is concerned for their safety.
The municipal council of Opol has already declared under state of calamity the four barangays on Tuesday so the local government can utilize the town’s calamity fund for the evacuees’ food provisions while they are staying at the evacuation site.
He said the town legislature has approved the withdrawal of P500,000 for the displaced civilians’ daily meals taken from the P10 million calamity fund, which is good for seven to 10 days.
Seno said the alleged NPA fighters were seen crisscrossing the mountain villages and were allegedly trying to recruit locals to their group prompting residents to leave their homes.
Based on the information provided by the village leaders, Seno said about 200 armed individuals were spotted in the four barangays.
Gennys Mangcunsay, a village councilor at Nangcaon, said many of the residents felt threatened by the presence of the armed group who grew larger since they were spotted passing by the highland communities in past few days.
“We had to get away because we feel it is dangerous for us if they (armed group) are in our community,” Mangcunsay, who’s also a tribal leader, said.
Mangcunsay said Seno ordered the municipal trucks to fetch the residents after barangay leaders made the request.
Senior Superintendent Roland Destura, the Misamis Oriental provincial police chief, said in an interview that they have already alerted the municipal police offices in the neighboring towns to be on a lookout for the presence of the armed group.
‘Fighting could erupt’
In a separate interview, Captain Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said if the armed group will linger in the area a fighting could erupt between government troops and the insurgents.
Martinez confirmed that the armed individuals were members of the NPA who are planning on carrying out attacks in the area.
He said these NPA units that were sighted were the ones that suffered from defeats in encounters with the state forces particularly in Bukidnon.
Martinez said the military is doing its best to intercept the Maoist rebels in their combat operations in the region.
In a press statement, Martinez, quoting a village official, said the NPAs went there to recruit new members and demanded food and money from her constituents. “Nahadlok mi kay gapang rekrut sila og bag-ong miyembro sa ilang bandidong grupo. Isip chairwoman, dili nako gusto nga gaabusar sila sa akong mga tawo susama sa pagpangayo og pagkaon og kwarta,” the statement said.
“We are terrified because they are recruiting members of their bandit group. As leader of my community, I don’t want these NPAs to abuse my people and demand food and hard-earned money from them,” Martinez quoted Edita Ompok, the chairwoman of Barangay Nagkahon, as saying.
The town of Opol and the Misamis Oriental Risk Reduction Management Council, facilitated the support for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and have prepared the evacuation center to cater their needs, read the statement.
Major Gen. Benjamin R Madrigal Jr., 4ID commander said: “This is another clear violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) because the NPAs have forced the people to support them that they have to leave their community. This is plain extortion and banditry.”
“We assure our people of Opol and the nearby communities that we will do our best to address this lawless group,” Madrigal added.
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