‘Bakwet’ | Hundreds of Lumád flee communities in Agusan Sur, Bukidnon

“Curfew hours were strictly imposed and the movements of the locals were closely monitored and controlled…They were not even allowed to work in their farms.”

By DEE AYROSO
Bulatlat

MANILA – Hundreds of Lumád have fled from their communities in the provinces of Bukidnon and Agusan del Sur in the past week, following attacks by a paramilitary group and harassment by soldiers in their communities.

Even as some 3,000 Lumád “bakwets’ (evacuees) remain in sanctuaries in Davao City and Tandag City, Surigao del Sur, evacuation sites were added in two provinces: one in front of the provincial capitol in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, and at the Zillovia village proper, Talacogon town, Agusan del Sur.

Evacuees at Malaybalay City comprise of 48 families, or 184 Tigwahanons from Kawayan village, San Fernando town, including survivors of the July 30 strafing by the paramilitary group Nipar in sitio (subvillage) Tibugawan, where a pregnant woman was killed and seven others were injured, including five minors.

Since Aug. 4, in Agusan del Sur, 48 Manobo families, or 248 individuals from Purok (subvillage) 8, Zillovia village, Talacogon town have sought refuge at the public gymnasium in the village proper, following harassment by 26th infantry batallion soldiers, who were supposedly conducting Community Organizing for Peace and Development (COPD).

Jomorito Goaynon, chairperson of the Lumád group Kalumbay-Northern Mindanao Region, lamented the uncertainty and the worsening situation, a month after Lumád groups and activists had met with President Duterte following his inauguration, when they appealed for help to return home.

Goaynon spoke at the forum entitled “Lupa, karapatan, hustisya (Land, rights, justice)” held by the Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu) at the Holy Spirit College in Mendiola on Aug. 8, as part of the celebration of the United Nation’s International Day for Indigenous Peoples.

‘Bukidnon gov called us ‘fake bakwets’

Datu Jimboy Mandagit, a tribal chieftain of Namnam village in San Fernando, also spoke at the forum, and said the Bukidnon evacuees are worried that they might be demolished by the provincial government, as Bukidnon Governor Jose Maria Zubiri had called them “fake bakwets” and told them to vacate the provincial capitol.

(Photo courtesy of Healing the Hurt project)
Tigwahonon evacuees at the Bukidnon provincial capitol (Photo courtesy of Healing the Hurt project)

After evacuees arrived at the provincial capitol, the Bukidnon Governor summoned Mandagit and other Lumád leaders to his office on Aug. 3. But to their disappointment, Zubiri only reprimanded them and said he will not let them stay at the capitol.

“It pains us that even as he has seen the wounded survivors among the evacuees, he branded us ‘fake bakwets,’” Mandagit said at the forum.

He decried the series of tragic events on Lumad communities, which he said, barely received help from government. Mandagit was among the evacuees who returned home on December 10, 2015, after 10 months of staying in the sanctuary at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran Center in Davao City. He said returning evacuees had just started farming and barely recovered when drought struck this year and wiped out their crops.

Mandagit was among the Mindanao leaders who came to Manila for Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 25. He was still in Davao City when Nipar attacked Kawayan village on July 30, and he learned that he was also targeted by the paramilitary men led by Alde “Butsoy” Salusad.

Datu Jimboy Mandagit spoke at the forum "Land, rights, justice" at the College of Holy Spirit on Aug.8 (Photo by Dee Ayroso/Bulatlat)
Datu Jimboy Mandagit spoke at the forum “Land, rights, justice” at the College of Holy Spirit on Aug.8 (Photo by Dee Ayroso/Bulatlat)

In an interview, Mandagit told Bulatlat that Zubiri offered to give P100,000 ($2,100) to the family of Makinit Gayoran, the 20-year-old pregnant woman who was killed in the strafing by Nipar, and P25,000 ($530) each to those who were wounded. The Gayoran family and 11 other families were forced to stay behind in Kawayan village, after they were barred from leaving by a tribal chieftain who followed Salusad.

Mandagit lamented that even as government had failed to extend aid to Lumád victims, it harbors criminals like Salusad, who is reportedly a program partner of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Salusad has eight unserved arrest warrants since 2012, for the killing of Dao village tribal chieftain Jimmy Liguyon and other victims.

’Hamletting’ in Talacogon

An urgent alert by the Higala sa Lumád (Friends of the Lumád) Network said 26th IB soldiers arrived in Zillovia village on July 11, and encamped in the populated area. The soldiers, who were supposedly implementing COPD activities, branded the community as New People’s Army (NPA) supporters, and asked them to surrender.

Manobo children sleep at the public gym in Zillovia village proper, Talacogon, Agusan del sur where they evacuated on July 4. (Photo courtesy of Healing the Hurt Project)
Manobo children sleep at the public gym in Zillovia village proper, Talacogon, Agusan del sur where they evacuated on July 4. (Photo courtesy of Healing the Hurt Project)

“Curfew hours were strictly imposed and the movements of the locals were closely monitored and controlled…They were not even allowed to work in their farms. This highly militarized situation left the Lumad with no choice but to flee from their homes to save themselves from further threat and harassment from the aforesaid military unit,” said the Higala alert.

The urgent alert said after two weeks, on Aug. 4, residents walked 14 kilometers from their community to the village proper, to flee from soldiers.

The alert said that on Aug. 5, 2016, the tribal leaders met with Zillovia village chairman Ernie Napao, and demanded the immediate pullout of soldiers. The village official, however, reportedly did not propose any solution, and instead told the evacuees that they would have to make way for the annual basketball league for the village fiesta.

Indigenous Peoples Agenda

At the forum, indigenous peoples groups led by Katribu called for the pullout of soldiers and disbandment of paramilitary groups, as part of their six-point Indigenous People’s Agenda which they submitted to Malacañang also on Aug. 8.

The IP agenda calls for the resumption of peace talks, amid threats made by the President to cancel the negotiations. Goaynon said indigenous communities support the peace negotiations between government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), in the hope that it will resolve the roots of the armed conflict. Lumad evacuees had been calling for the withdrawal of troops in the communities. (With photo courtesy of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Region) ()

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