By Alexander Lopez
BUTUAN CITY – A tribal leader in Surigao del Sur province has criticized the “lies” being sown by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), against the government’s peace and development efforts in the area.
In an interview on Tuesday, Manobo leader Hawudon Jumar Bucales, the Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR) in Lianga town, said the CPP-NPA – through their allied groups – are using social media to destroy the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police (PNP) amid the latter’s efforts to help implement government programs in the area.
“The front organizations and allies of the CPP-NPA are again out to discredit the government, especially the Army and the PNP, by imputing on them misdeeds and offenses, which in truth, are not committed by the security forces of the government. It’s the NPA who has been harassing IP communities and killing IP leaders in Surigao del Sur,” Bucales said.
In particular, he pointed to the group Save Our Schools (SOS) Network, which he alleged is responsible for “corrupting the IP children.”
Bucales urged the SOS Network to “stop using and exploiting the IP children for their political ambition and return these children to their respective communities.”
He also lambasted the SOS Network and other groups over the alleged militarization that are taking place in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga and other parts of Surigao del Sur.
“On the issue of militarization, we the IP leaders and the communities have requested the Army’s presence in our ancestral lands because we want the Communist NPA Terrorists (CNTs) to stop their abuse, exploitation, and killings of innocent IPs who refuse to give in to their violent armed struggle and ideology,” Bucales said.
He also cited the recent killings of IP leaders perpetrated by the NPA in Surigao del Sur, particularly in the town of San Miguel and the harassments conducted by the rebels in rural communities at the height of the implementation of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) quarantine.
Bucales also hit the SOS Network for insinuating that the military attacked schools in Surigao del Sur.
“There are no schools under attack. In fact, we are building DepEd (Department of Education) IP schools to replace the communist infested schools, such as TRIFPSS and Alcadev that poisoned the minds of our children. It is the IP community that wanted TRIFPSS and Alcadev to be closed,” Bucales said.
The TRIFPSS (Tribal Filipino Program in Surigao del Sur) and Alcadev (Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, Inc.) have consistently been linked by the military to the communist rebel movement.
Late last week, Lianga’s municipal government, led by Mayor Novelita M. Sarmen, issued a statement expressing full support for the peace, law enforcement, and development operations of the Army and the PNP in the area.
“As we have recently declared the Communist NPA Terrorist personalities and their cohorts as persona non-grata, we, in the Lianga LGU and the Lianga IP Tribal Council, are declaring our strong support to the Peace, Law Enforcement and Development Support Cluster’s (PLEDS) efforts, such as the continuous combat operations against CNTs and the law enforcement support operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police to eventually end the local communist armed conflict in our municipality and to put a stop to the CNTs’ abuse, exploitation, and killings of innocent Indigenous Peoples who refuse to give in to their violent armed and political struggle and pointless ideology within the IPs’ ancestral lands,” the statement read.
The LGU said it recognizes “the constitutionally binding duties and responsibilities of the AFP and PNP to protect the people and the state from these terrorists and other threats to national security.”
1Lt. Krisjuper Andreo J. Punsalan, civil-military operations officer of the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Battalion (3SFBn), said the IP leaders themselves requested the presence of the military and the police in their communities as they fear the continuing harassments of the NPA.
“The IP leaders and residents in communities in Lianga have reported sightings of NPAs. The rebels are now targeting IP leaders and communities that are opposing their presence,” Punsalan said in an interview on Tuesday.
He added that 38 households were forced to leave their homes from Sitio Hayon and Sitio Sangay and temporarily settle in the center of Barangay Libas-Sud in San Miguel town last May 13 due to the sightings of NPA rebels.
On the same day, seven families from Sitio Lagangan sought refuge in the houses of their relatives in Barangay Caras-Anin in Tago, Surigao del Sur due to fear of sighted rebels, Punsalan added.
He said the displaced IP residents have already returned to their respective communities with the help of the military and the LGU of Lianga.
The NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. (PNA)