By ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
BAGUIO CITY – Pupils in the declared peace-zone town of Sagada, Mountain Province suffered most when elements of the Cordillera police and the Philippine Air Force pounded the Demang communal forest with bombs and machine guns to destroy alleged camps of the New People’s Army (NPA).
School and municipal officials said that pupils in the public schools of the northern villages of Sagada namely Aguid, Fidelisan, Pide, Tanulong and Bangaan were traumatized when police conducted ground operations, aerial bombings and strafing, August 30.
The bombing and strafing came after an encounter between government troops and NPA rebels on August 29 at the Bandong Hill near the boundaries of Mainit, Bontoc and the northern barangays of Sagada and Tubo, Abra. Two police officers, Primo Marcelo and Romel Sagot, were injured. The two were transported by helicopter to the Baguio General Hospital in Baguio City for treatment.
Sources said that two MG520 helicopter gunships dropped the bombs and strafed the forested area in Sagada, only two kilometers away from Sagada’s northern villages of Aguid and Fidelisan. The helicopters allegedly dropped four bombs and strafed the forests twice.
Parents and teachers said the pupils were shocked and traumatized as they witnessed the bombings, strafing, and ground operations. An official of the Department of Education (DepEd) said that the pupils panicked and cried, pleading their teachers to allow them to run home but they were contained to the classrooms and school premises.
Milton Marrero, a DepEd superintendent of Sagada, said the teachers were told not to allow the pupils to move out from the school premises particularly during the bombing and strafing. He added that some students live in the outer subvillages where they have to hike for some minutes and they would have been exposed to danger had they left the school premises that time.
Sagada officials have requested the local Department of Social Welfare and Development to facilitate post-trauma activities to treat the pupils.
Fr. Rex Reyes, an Anglican priest and secretary-general of the National Churches of Christ in the Philippines (NCCP) and a native of Sagada, supported the move to address the trauma left by the operations among the pupils and other traumatized residents.
“Keep the little ones in safety and may the trauma of war cease to be their nightmares in years to come,” Reyes said.
Villagers of northern Sagada hit the Cordillera police for conducting the operations without informing the villagers.
“It violated the policy that Sagada is a peace zone,” said an official of one of the villages.
A villager said that they were able to prohibit the police from setting camp in the school premises. He added that they invoked various laws which prohibit the use of schools for military camps. Still the police stayed in the open gym of Aguid on Thursday evening.
Police from Mountain Province towns of Besao, Sagada and Sabangan supported the regional police in the operation that started on August 29 and ended on August 31.
Cordillera Police Chief Supt. Benjamin Magalong claimed that they were able to over ran an NPA camp in the area in the operation. He alleged that the area has been used by the rebels as a staging area for their attacks on police personnel.
Meanwhile, residents are pushing the local Sangguniang Bayan to adopt resolutions to reiterate Sagada as a peace-zone and also urge the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to resume peace talks. Northern Dispatch Reposted by