A Philippine Army checkpoint sabotaged the long-scheduled Interschool Cultural Festival of Lumad schools when it barred participants from going to the festival site Saturday, December 2, event organizer Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) reported.
About 70 festival participants and visitors were prevented from proceeding to the Kilometer 9 Simowao Evacuation Center by 75th Infantry (Marauder) Battalion troopers manning a checkpoint at Kilometer 6, Barangay St. Christine in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, TRIFPSS said.
“The Inter School Cultural Festival was first announced in October 2017 and was scheduled to be held in December 1-3, 2017,” the group added.
The event was originally slated to be held at the re-opened Alternative Learning Development Center at Barangay Diatagon in the said town until recent military operations in the area forced residents to evacuate anew.
Last November 26, 327 families with 1,177 individuals evacuated to Simowao from 14 Lumad communities in Bgy. Diatagon, Lianga and Brgy. Buhisan, San Agustin.
Nine Lumad schools are affected with 406 students and 59 para-teachers, TRIFPSS said.
“The festival delegation decided to push through with the schedule and visit the evacuees as supporters of the Lumad schools have already donated and prepared cooked food for the opening ceremony of the festival and for the evacuees,” the group added.
Schoolchildren from other Lumad schools in the region have long looked forward to attending the festival, TRIFPSS said.
The group said the military demanded a mayor’s permit from the visitors before they can be allowed to proceed.
Lianga Mayor Kid Pedrozo, however, was not at his office when TRIFPSS representatives went to the municipal hall.
The group said the visitors were accompanied by Lianga Sangguniang Bayan members Sammy Dollano and Merenciano Martizano to negotiate with the military, to no avail.
“They were still refused entry by the soldiers who said they were following the orders of their commanding officer (Col. Roy P. Garcia),” TRIFPSS said.
On their way back to Tandag City, the visitors were again stopped and held for a few minutes at another military checkpoint in Brgy. Buhisan, San Agustin, Surigao del Sur.
Lumad groups and human rights organizations reported that the 75th IBPA has been refusing the entry of humanitarian groups who want to check the condition of the evacuees and deliver relief to the evacuation center since November 26.
The entry of food and supplies to the evacuation site has also been severely restricted, TRIFPSS said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)