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AFP, PNP enforce another food blockade against Lianga evacuees

The Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police (PNP) are enforcing another food blockade against the Lumad evacuees in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, a human rights group reported.

The 75th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (75th IBPA) as well as the local PNP blocked food aid brought by Church groups at around 11:30 AM, Karapatan Caraga said in an alert Wednesday, July 18.

Troopers have also been deployed around the Barangay Diatagon Gymnasium where the evacuees have stayed since their forced evacuation Monday, the group said.

“We should not tolerate the bakwit (evacuees) so that they will be forced to go back to their community,” the soldiers reportedly told the donors in Cebuano.

The soldiers erected a checkpoint by the national highway leading to Diatagon gym to prevent motorcycles carrying food items bought from the town market passing through the blockade, the group added.

“[The 75th IBPA and the PNP] threaten(ed) to arrest non-Lianga residents who are extending humanitarian support for about 1600 Manobo evacuees [are],” the group said.

The same army unit has also implemented a similar blockade when the Lumad evacuated last January.

The Lumad were forced to evacuate from their communities 33 days after the military put up detachments and encamped at Kilometer 9 of the said barangay.

Tandag Bishop Raul Dael (center, with pectoral cross) visit the Lumad evacuees at Diatagon. (Kasalo Caraga photo)

Bishop visits evacuees

In a separate announcement, Lumad organization Kasalo Caraga said Roman Catholic Bishop Raul Dael as well as nuns of the Diocese of Tandag visited Diatagon Wednesday night to offer support to the evacuees.

Kasalo said the prelate were able to talk to Barangay Diatagon Chairperson Metong and leaders of the local Lumad organization Mapasu during their visit.

The barangay captain admitted he was pressured by the military to sign Barangay Resolution 11-2018 allowing the establishment of a military detachment in Km 9, forcing the Lumad to eventually evacuate, Kasalo said.

The barangay leader promised to review the said resolution, the group added.

Lumad evacuees sleeping in very crowded conditions. (Photo by Chad Booc)

Harassments

Karapatan Caraga said that aside from intimidating the evacuees, the army troopers also harassed the Manobo women, asking “Kinsa ang mga ababe nga pwedeng bayran diri?” (Who are the women that we can buy here?)

The evacuees also complain of lack of water and sanitation facilities at the gym arousing fears of a health crisis.

The Lumad said their resistance to five coal mining contracts in the Andap Valley Complex have made them targets of intense militarization of their communities. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP slams Army unit, LGU

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned a military unit that tried to prevent Davao City-based journalists from covering the evacuation of about 2,000 Lumad evacuees in Lianga, Surigao del Sur Monday, July 16.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the NUJP said it strongly condemns the 4th Civic Military Operation (4th CMO) Battalion of the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that stopped the vehicle carrying five journalists from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Radyo ni Juan Network, Kilab Multimedia, The Breakaway Media and Davao Today at about 11 o’clock Monday at Kilometer 3, Sitio Neptune in Diatagon, Lianga.

A Major Jerson Igloria, battalion ground commander manning the checkpoint, told the reporters not to proceed to where the evacuees were gathered and was heard asking, “Sino yang nasa loob ng sasakyan? Mga illegal yan? ‘Di lumabas.” (Who are those inside the vehicles? Are they illegal? Why are they not alighting?)

Inquirer correspondent Barry Dacanay then alighted and tried to go near the approaching evacuees but was stopped by Igloria who told him, Sir, doon ka lang. Respetohay lang ta.” (Sir, just stay away. Let us respect each other.)

The Army officer then ordered the journalists to first secure a permit from the Lianga Municipal Social Welfare and Development (MSWD) Office before they would be allowed to cover the evacuation.

“Hintayin niyo yung MSWD kung papayagan kayo,” Maj. Igloria told them, claiming the place was an “ambush area” and therefore dangerous. (Just wait for the MSWD if it would allow you.)

A 4th CMO trooper interrogates a journalist at a checkpoint in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. (The Breakaway Media photo)

The journalists sought permission from the Lianga MSWD but were refused without explanation.

Asked later by local reporters about their refusal, Lianga MSWD officer Melita Encenzo denied forbidding the Davao journalists from proceeding to where the evacuees were.

“They just need to seek permission from the MSWDO or the barangays officials, just so we know who visits our area of responbility,” Encenzo reportedly said.

The journalists nevertheless managed to take photos and videos as well as conduct interviews when the evacuees reached the national highway.

The NUJP however said that both the military and the MSWD had no right in trying to prevent the Davao journalists from covering the Lumad evacuation.

“We stress that, in the absence of clear and present danger, neither the Army, MSWD, or any government agency has the authority to prevent any Filipino citizen from enjoying the freedom to travel and, in this case, stop journalists from covering what is clearly an event of utmost public interest and concern,” NUJP said.

The group said that even if it was dangerous, it is precisely the military’s mandate to protect civilians such as the journalists and the evacuees they were covering.

It also scored the MSWD for trying to prevent coverage of the evacuees’ plight and depriving them of assistance by withholding information that could help solicit more aid for the Lumad.

“Martial law [in Mindanao] does not justify the arbitrary restriction on coverage of the Lumad evacuation, unless, of course, we have ceased to be a democracy. What happened was a clearly unconstitutional violation of press freedom and, more importantly, of the people’s right to know,” the NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)