LANUZA, Surigao del Sur – Hundreds were forced out of their homes here following a clash between the military and suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels earlier this week.
Around 570 people from Sitio Ibuan, Barangay Mampi and 242 people from Sitio Himatagan in Barangay Agsam were displaced after a firefight between soldiers of the 36th Infantry Battalion and suspected rebels last Wednesday.
The rebels allegedly threatened 9 Lumad families before the firefight ensued.
"Threatening the Lumads is a desperate move of the NPA. They are depriving the Lumads to have a peaceful community," said Brigadier Gen. Franco Nemecio Gacal, commander of the Philippine Army's 402nd Brigade.
Datu Cherlito Juagpao, a representative from the Manobo tribe, said soldiers have been in the area since Feb. 14 as part of a community development activity but noted that this was the first harassment attempt of NPA rebels.
"We feared for our life that we had to leave in a hurry. Some of us did not even have slippers or clothes. While some walked, others were able to take a ride on motorcyles,” said Juagpao.
"This is the first time in our village’s history that we have been displaced [because of the] conflict between the army and the NPA. If I’m not mistaken, a similar incident happened in the past, in the '80s, but we never had to seek refuge elsewhere," said Romanito Badiang, a displaced resident and member of the village council.
They are currently seeking refuge at a community gymnasium along the national highway in Barangay Agsam.
"We immediately provided them with food as all of them had been walking for several hours without any lunch from the fear of the encounter. Today, we continue to provide them with food and other needs,” said Lolita Cidro, Municipal Social Welfare and Development (MSWD) and camp management officer.
Badiang added that the gunfire caused panic throughout the village, leaving residents scrambling for safety.
"Our children were even separated in the ensuing commotion. My 4-year-old child was with another relative as they ran into a different direction while my other children were with my wife. Thankfully, we were reunited later,” he said.