Lianga evacuees to seek sanctuary in Tandag
This is the second time that the Lumads have had to evacuate this year and the fourth since martial law was declared in Mindanao in 2017.
Higala Friends of the Lumad in Caraga, file

Lianga evacuees to seek sanctuary in Tandag

(Philstar.com) - July 30, 2018 - 5:35pm

MANILA, Philippines — More than 1,000 Lumad evacuees who had been staying at a village gymnasium in Lianga, Surigao del Sur have reportedly left the area because of alleged harassment by the military.

"Today, around 1,600 Lumads who earlier evacuated from 15 communities in Lianga and stayed at a covered court in Diatagon for several days since July 16, 2018 are to begin a journey to find a safer refuge, a secured sanctuary," Archbishop Rhee Timbang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente said in a Facebook post on Monday.

According to alternative media group Kilab Multimedia, the evacuees left Lianga "after enduring weeks of food blockade and harassment from the military."

"They are reportedly heading to another municipality to assert their calls for the military pullout from their communities in Lianga," Kilab also reported.

Karapatan-Caraga, which issued an alert about the evacuation on July 16, also said the evacuees were leaving Barangay Diatagon.

Fr. Fortunato Estillore of the Indigenous People's Apostolate of the Catholic Diocese of Tandag said last week that aside from poor living conditions at the gymnasium, the evacuees also had to deal with "threats and harassment brought by the military." He said authorities "are very strict with people who want to visit the bakwit."

Also last week, the Save Our Schools Network in Caraga reported similar harassment and a "food blockade."

In an alert, the group said: "Priests and church people are also intimidated by the military and told not to help the evacuees... Other priests and nuns who were visiting the evacuees were blocked by the military and were escorted to a different venue instead." 

Melita Encenzo of the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office in Lianga has denied that relief is being kept from the evacuees.

In a video posted on Facebook and shared by an account associated with the Army's 401st Infantry Brigade, she said in Bisaya that relief goods for the evacuees should be turned over to local authorities for distribution.

She said this had already been discussed in a July 20 meeting with community leaders.

She also said members of the media were not barred from going to the evacuation center despite a report by MindaNews that its team had not been allowed through military roadblocks.

The military has long maintained that organizations like the Manobo group Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU, or Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation) are supportive of the communist New People's Army and are either manipulating or forcing the Lumad communities to evacuate as propaganda against the government.

Rights groups and volunteers, however, said the evacuation was prompted by the deployment of troops to areas in Lianga and San Simon and by alleged harassment by soldiers there. 

Groups like Caraga Watch believe the troop deployment is meant to "to remove any opposition against the entry of coal mining companies into the ancestral lands of the Lumad."

The valley is among the areas that President Rodrigo Duterte said in February that he wanted to open up to investments, saying he would pick the investors so there would be no corruption in the deals.

"Make use of your ancestral domain. Do not let it remain idle," Duterte said in his SONA in 2016 and, in February, stressed that: "Now, you have been given ancestral domain. The problem is, you aren't using it."

On Monday, Timbang said: "[T]oday, the lumads are taking their communal journey! They are to walk literally to a safer place, a secured sanctuary, somewhere in Tandag City! It does not matter how many days it would take them to walk! What matters to them is life — a life that is endowed with rights to security, to protection, to respect, rights to defend their ancestral land!" — Jonathan de Santos

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