After top military officers agreed to pull out soldiers from barangay (village) halls and civilian facilities in Talaingod, Davao del Norte province, over 1,000 Talaingod Manobo people returned to their town over the weekend after fleeing from counterinsurgency operations in March.
A militant human rights group, however, expressed concern for the safety of the “lumad” or indigenous people and suggested that a hot line be installed for them to report abuses.
“We enjoin the public to keep in touch and be aware of what is happening in Talaingod,” said Prof. Aya Ragrario of Defend Talaingod, Save Pantaron Range Alliance.
The military withdrawal from 11 sitios in Barangay Palma Gil came after a meeting among the evacuees, officials of the Eastern Mindanao Command and Davao Del Norte Gov. Rodolfo del Rosario on April 29. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte facilitated the meeting.
However, Lt. Col. Jake Obligado, chief of civil-military operations of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said the immediate clearing of troops did not mean that they were barred from going to the sitios. “That is our mandate; no one can prevent us from going there,” he said after the dialogue.
The Talaingod Manobo people moved out of harm’s way as soldiers reportedly conducted air strikes during an intensified offensive against communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.
A similar humanitarian problem has risen in the city’s Paquibato District but Duterte opposes a military withdrawal. “I will not allow the pullout of government troops because that is their job—to go where the communists are,” the mayor said.
But Duterte asked the soldiers to stop conducting a community “census,” questioning residents about their family members, organizational affiliations and whereabouts, and to leave barangay halls, day-care centers and other civilian facilities.
“I will ask them to stop questioning everybody, which is already scaring people in the communities,” he said. “If they want information, I’ll ask them to coordinate with the barangay captains instead.”
But the local leaders also have their grievances against the soldiers.
Celso Bughaw, barangay chair of Lumiad, told Duterte during a dialogue that the soldiers had told him that he owed his position to the NPA.
Aida Seira, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in the area and Paquibato District Peasant Alliance, said her husband, who has been working in Singapore, had been suspected of having joined the rebels because he was no longer seen in the community.