• ‘Militarization’ of Lumad refugee center hit

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    CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY: Some 200 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Higaonon tribe have encamped at the Vicente Lara Park fronting the Provincial Capitol here after a dialogue with the military did not push through last Friday.

    The IDPs from Sitio Camansi and Tapul in Barangay Banglay, Lagonglong town, 65 kilometers east of Cagayan de Oro, had sought refuge at the town gymnasium two weeks ago and soldiers from the 58th Infantry Battalion (IB) pitched “bayanihan” team activities (BTA) tent in front of it.

    The military begged off from the dialog and asked for postponement, saying they are not prepared to sit down with the Lumads yet.

    The Lumad have called for an agreement to free their village from military and rebel incursions as they expressed fear that they might be caught in a cross fire with the setting up of the BTA in their evacuation center since June 5.

    Also, about 52 schoolchildren among the IDPs missed the opening of school year last June 13 as they were forced to abandon their community.

    The Lumads stressed the need to end militarization of their village and evacuation centers, adding that the troops’ immediate presence is against the International Humanitarian Law (IHL), of which the Philippines is a signatory.

    This is the fourth time in three years that residents of Sitios Camansi and Tapul have evacuated from their village, about 30 kilometers from the poblacion, as the military sent troops to set up the BTA.

    The residents said they are afraid of being caught in the crossfire if the military and rebels would clash. “To evacuate was a preventive move on our part. If the soldiers stay within the village, we also become targets if the rebels would fight the soldiers in our midst,’’ explained Nenita Hilogon, spokesperson of the village organization Tagtabulon (Rise Up).

    But the military also followed them at the evacuation site.

    “The IHL explicitly prohibits any armed group to encamp near communities, more so an evacuation camp,’’ explained Christopher Ablon, of the rights group Karapatan, during a media conference this week.

    The IHL is the law on armed conflict, and the protection of civilians and those who are not involved in the hostilities are its cornerstone. This protection extends particularly to IDPs, women and children.

    But the military insists the BTA is a legitimate mandate of the armed forces under “Oplan Bayanihan,” the six-year internal peace and security plan of the Aquino administration.

    First Lt. Janelle Diaz, spokesman of the battalion stationed in Umagos, Lagonglong said the BTA is intended to “serve as a bridge, to bring the government services to [rebel]infiltrated areas, or hinterland villages, wherever social workers have difficulties in reaching out as the villages are far and only horses or carabaos are the means of transportation.’’

    Asked why a platoon was stationed in the heart of town, barely five meters from the IDP encampment and across the offices of the service agencies, Diaz said that BTA are also held to secure communities from the threats posed by communist rebels. Lina Sagaral Reyes

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