by INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon-Caraga (Kasalo-Caraga) has sounded the alarm over the ongoing militarization in Zapanta Valley, Bray. Bangayan, Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte and Ferlda, Alegria, Surigao del Norte. The group said countless human rights violations are being perpetrated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against the Lumad-Mamanwa people in their communities. The group said the indigenous peoples in the Caraga region are perennial targets of intensive militarization.
According to the secretary-general of Kasalo-Caraga Genasque Enriquez, the AFP launched combat operations from March 4 to 6, which was participated in by elements of the 30th Infantry Battalion and the 3rd Special Forces of 402nd Brigade.
“Indiscriminate firing, shelling and airstrikes were executed simultaneously. They targeted the nearby mountain areas of Sitio Zapanta Valley, spreading fear among the residents. Residents were forced to evacuate and seek safety in Brgy. Bangayan, Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte,” Enriquez said.
According to reports, Lumad-Mamanwa youth, elderly, women and young children journeyed nine kilometers across muddy terrain late afternoon on March 6. Forced to evacuate were 45 families or 149 individuals.
Fifty-two of the evacuees are women, nine of them pregnant, 53 are children. The youngest is barely a month old, and many are under 10 years old. They arrived at the multi-purpose hall of Brgy. Bangayan at around 8 o’clock in the evening.
Kasalo-Caraga reported that the AFP’s airstrikes continued and military troops entered the populated areas. On March 9, there were reportedly three-day airstrikes utilizing 2 MG-520 in two communities in the tri-boundary of Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.
On March 11, some 80 more peasant families or 279 individuals were also forced to evacuate their homes.
As of March 19, there were 125 Lumad-Mamanwa and peasant families with 429 members in all temporary sheltered at the multi-purpose hall in Brgy. Bangayan, Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte.
“These families also evacuated in June 2010, and twice last April 2011 and June 2011 because of the military campaigns and the rampant violations the AFP elements committed against their human rights,” Enriquez said.
Also as of March 19, 76 families with 276 individuals are living nomad-like all over Alegria, Surigao del Norte. Of this, 52 families are Lumad-Mamanwas.They evacuated from their communities last February 28, 2012 when around 80 elements from the 30th and 38th IB PA launched their Community Organizing for Peace and Development (COPD) activities and combat operations in Brgy. Ferlda, Alegria, Surigao del Norte.
“Even as residents began evacuating, the military walked or rode alongside them as the civilians hiked the entire 18 kilometers toward Brgy. Ombong. The soldiers insinuated themselves in the midst of the civilian population and used the civilians as shields until they reached Ombong, Alegria,” Enriquez said.
“It’s certain that there are many other Lumad communities dislocated by the massive bombing, airstrikes and military operations. Many lumad communities are established near if not directly in the mountain areas that were bombed.”
According to reports, the AFP has already spent P6 million with their indiscriminate bombing and strafing of mountains in Agusan-Surigao Norte in the first half of the current month.
Kasalo-Caraga said the mountain areas of Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur contain large deposits of various minerals including gold. Minimax Gold Exploration is among those with mining interests in the mountains of Santiago, Jabonga and Kitcharao. SR Mining Inc currently has gold mining operations in the said mountains. Applications for exploration permits in the municipalities of Tubay, Santiago and Jabonga and Cabadbaran City have also increased.
“The Lopez Family’s First Gen Hydro Electric Corp. is currently conducting its survey in Agusan del Norte particularly in Zapanta Valley. Large coal deposits can also be found in Kitcharao and Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte. The continued opposition of the Lumad people in the region especially in Zapanta Valley against large-scale, destructive and foreign mining is among the major reasons why the civilians in these areas are being subjected to brutal militarization and indiscriminate bombing,” Enriquez said.
The human rights advocate slammed the Benigno Aquino III administration for allowing the AFP to continue its attacks against the Lumad people.
“The continuing implementation of the anti-Lumad Oplan Bayanihan has caused serious damage against so many lives of the Lumad people. The militarization campaign is being implemented to ensure the unhampered entry of the destructive, so-called ‘ development-projects,’ like mining. The military, with the blessing of the Aquino government, is hell-bent on driving away the Lumad people from their ancestral lands,” he said.
“In the face of this, the Lumad people of Caraga will continue to stand firm to protect our ancestral lands. We will continue to protest and resist all efforts to destroy the environment we have protected for the future generations of Lumad people.”