SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur, Philippines — Sixty-seven families in the hinterlands of Lianga, Surigao del Sur have fled their homes again, fearing hostilities between government troops and New Peoples Army (NPA) rebels might escalate.
The families — coming from the Sitios Simowao and Emerald of Barangay Diatagon — evacuated due to tensions between soldiers and the NPA that started with a grenade attack on a house in Emerald last Feb. 21, which resulted in the wounding of three civilians, including a five-year-old girl.
The group Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation) or Mapasu blamed the attack on government forces while the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Battalion pinned the responsibility on the NPA.
The attack blew off the roof of the house and wounded Andrea Gallergo, 55, Marimar Terse, 19, and Reynafe Calipay, 5, all residents of Sitio Emerald. They were said to be watching television inside the house at the time.
First Lt. Krisjuper Andreo Punsalan, a civil-military officer of the Army unit, said soldiers immediately responded to the scene, providing first aid to the victims and bringing them to the Lianga District Hospital.
The displaced residents sought refuge in the neighboring Sitios of Km. 16, Han-ayan, and Kabulohan.
Among the evacuees are four teachers and 62 students of the Simowao Community Learning Center, which is run by the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (Trifpss).
The teachers were forced to suspend their classes due to the incident.
The evacuees said they lost sleep thinking about the brewing tension in their communities hence they decided to leave.
Some of the evacuees allegedly heard threats from soldiers that, if there would be another NPA attack, they would fire upon civilians in retaliation.
But the military said the grenade attack was a conspiracy of the NPA and Mapasu to feign harassment by the Army in order to trigger the evacuation of residents.
Lt. Col. Joey Baybayan, commanding officer of the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Battalion, said an informant has already described the plot to them.
Col. Allan Hambala, commander of the Army’s 401st Brigade, said the NPA was threatened by the march of development into the hinterland villages which would render them irrelevant.