Army hits NPA propaganda on alleged Surigao Sur evacuation
Butuan City (14 October) -- Not a single shot was fired. So what caused the evacuation?
Various organizations coming from the extreme left have accused the Philippine Army, specifically the 58th Infantry Battalion of the 4th Infantry (Diamond) Division, of terrorizing some 15 communities of the Manobo Tribe in Surigao del Sur. As per press release by the Friends of the Evacuees in Surigao del Sur, around 1,500 individuls from 15 lumad communities of Lianga, San Agustin, and Tago, Surigao del Sur were forced to leave their homes because of massive military presence in their barangays.
Yet local leaders, including the Roman Catholic Church, have denounced the allegations as mere propaganda. Fr. Florio R. Falcon, DCT, speaking on behalf of the Bishop of the Diocese of Tandag and the Board of Consultors, pointed out in a letter sent to some civil society members that people living around the so-called "affected communities" had been surprised by the massive evacuation because they have not heard of any eruption of hostilities, nor had there been massive deployment of troops by the Philippine Army.
Fr. Falcon has clarified that what they have observed was just the usual military deployment in the communities as part of their routine operations to patrol the areas where sightings of NPAs have been reported. The operation could hardly be considered as something that could trigger massive evacuation.
The subject military operation was not a military operation in the strictest sense of the word. When troopers belonging to the 58th Infantry Battalion went to Brgy Lagdik in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, they were there to start a process of community consultation-cum-problem identification towards identifying and formulating possible development projects for the communities. In fact, these activities were first presented to the Provincial Peace and Order Councils and the Municipal Peace and Order Council purposely to get their nod and support to the planned peace and development intervention.
With the support of the local government units, the different government line agencies, and the local church and other stakeholders, the intervention eventually commenced last June 2009. Army Troops were deployed in the communities to be able to gather relevant information relative to the requirements of peace and development, the whole intervention being the expression of the 4th Infantry Division's concept of Community Organizing for Peace and Development. The information gathering process would have matured into a full-scale development intervention where different government agencies, private sector, and the local government units would work hand in hand to address felt problems by and among the community people.
Unfortunately, the noble intentions of the army was seen by the left as a threat not to the community people but to the operations of the CPP-NPA in the Andap Valley Complex. With the soldiers going the rounds of community discussion and consultation through community integration, the CPP-NPA feared that the people might eventually speak out and expose the CPP-NPA operators in the communities. It was this fear that compelled the CPP leadership in the area to start orchestrating the most organized evacuation that ever happened in Surigao del Sur.
The paranoia of the CPP led to its desperate drive to cry foul even when what the Army intended to do was bring development into the communities of indigenous peoples in the Andap Complex. If it was not paranoia, then how else can one explain the massive evacuation when there were no armed hostilities, or that there was no massive military operation in the communities?
At the expense of the people's welfare, the CPP then mobilized its cadres, its front committees, and its organs both in the red area and the white area to conduct organized evacuation with the twin objective of dramatizing the impact of militarization, and the protection and defense of party organizations and structures in the Andap Complex. It was a mobilization to defend the established apparatus of the CPP-NPA, no more and no less. The lumad communities were merely used as façade.
Finding no support from the local people except for the usual organizations who are known to close their eyes on NPA atrocities, the CPP propaganda machine orchestrated a national propaganda campaign that will bring attention to the plight of the evacuees in Surigao del Sur. Unknown to many people, the evacuation was the CPPs creation through its legal organizations and NGOs in the area. And the national exposure was no less than the result of the CPPs propaganda barrage. (4ID Philippine Army) [top]