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Hundreds flee Army, NPA war in remote areas nationwide

by Pesante-USA Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2007 at 8:44 PM
magsasakapil@hotmail.com 213-241-0995 537 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

The ceasefire declared by the military isn’t holding as hundreds of villagers fled remote communities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao that have turned into battlegrounds between communist guerrillas and government soldiers. The flight of residents afraid of getting caught in the crossfire has created temporary communities in shelters where the civilians were brought for safety.

Hundreds flee Army, NPA war in remote areas nationwide

Last updated 01:47:00 12/18/2007

MANILA, Philippines – The ceasefire declared by the military isn’t holding as hundreds of villagers fled remote communities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao that have turned into battlegrounds between communist guerrillas and government soldiers.

The flight of residents afraid of getting caught in the crossfire has created temporary communities in shelters where the civilians were brought for safety.

In Surigao del Sur, members of the Manobo tribe again fled their homes as government soldiers refused to leave their village in Tago town that has turned into a war zone.

The plight of the Manobo evacuees has not improved and the drastic change that the war brought to their lives was best illustrated by a Manobo woman giving birth in an evacuation center in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur.

The human rights group Karapatan said An-An Ramos, 34, was already in labor when she, her husband and five children packed their belongings and fled their village in Tago with 19 other Manobo families.

An-An gave birth at the Diocesan Pastoral Center (DPC) in Tandag to a boy. He was named Pascual.

Manobos from other villages have fled, too, after the military refused to heed their plea to leave their communities.

Rev. Modesto Villasanta, Karapatan chair in Surigao del Sur, said the Manobos returned home Dec. 8 but fled again just last Friday as soldiers came again.

The soldiers were escorting officials of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) who were to negotiate with Manobo leaders to allow coal mining by the Philippine National Oil Co. in their communities, according to Villasanta.

At least 100 soldiers, led by a certain Lt. Col. Ben Pedralves, descended on the Manobo villages, he said.

Manobos were being persuaded by soldiers to sign an agreement that would allow PNOC to mine coal in the area, according to the priest.

An agreement signing was set last Sunday but it was cancelled when the Manobos fled their homes and sought shelter in the DPC.

PNOC mined coal in the area in the 1980s.

The 1980s operations also displaced the Manobos who, at that time, sought shelter in the Tandag Diocese.

In General Nakar town, members of the Agta tribe also fled their homes near the slopes of the Sierra Madre as government soldiers brought the anti-insurgency war there.

Ramcey Astoveza, an Agta leader, said his people sought refuge at the Tribal Center for Development Building in Infanta town.

“Most of them decided to leave for the sake of the children,” said Astoveza in a phone interview. “They are used to peaceful living in the mountain.”

He said the Agtas fled partly to evade recruitment as militiamen.

“We are not warriors. We are simple, peaceful mountain farmers. Bloodbath and violence are alien to our culture,” Astoveza said.

Col. Jorge Segovia, head of the Army’s 202nd Infantry Brigade operating in Southern Tagalog, said in a phone interview that the counterinsurgency operations would not bring harm to the Agtas.

Segovia said battlegrounds of the past were far from the Agta settlements. “There is no reason for them to worry. Besides, we’re only after the … [NPA rebels] and not the tribal people,” he said.

He denied the alleged recruitment of tribesmen as militiamen.

Membership is “voluntary,” Segovia said. “We could not force them to join the Cafgu because that is against the law.”

In a village in MacArthur town, Leyte, at least 20 families fled their homes as the Army sent men and an armored personnel carrier to search for guerrillas who were reported seen in the area.

Lt. Col. Mario Lacurom, 43rd Infantry Battalion commander based in Hibodhibod village, said the guerrillas could be fleeing their base in western Leyte.

“These rebels were running and must have threatened the villagers so they could harvest farm products and coconut to support them,” Lacurom said. Chris Panganiban, Inquirer Mindanao; Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon; and Jani Arnaiz, Inquirer Visayas

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