Rethinking Society Over a Cup of Coffee

Military operations displace 281 families in Surigao del Sur

Massive military operations have forced the evacuation of 281 families with 1,659 individuals from 14 communities in the municipalities of Lianga and San Agustin, Surigao del Sur. Students and staff from the Alternative Learning System for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) and Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur have also been forced to evacuate. Classes have been suspended.

Two battalions from the 36th and 58th brigades of the Philippine Army arrived in Lianga and San Agustin on July 13 and have been living inside the communities of Kilometer 16 and Han-ayan. In Kilometer 9, they are even staying inside people’s houses.

ALCADEV teacher Jerume Loquite was prevented from bringing four sacks of rice to the ALCADEV students. The commanding officer at the Sammilia checkpoint, Col. Pedralves, told him that he did not believe that there were any students at the school.

People of the community called for a dialogue with the military in order to appeal for peace and to ask the military to leave the area. But the military refused to leave. They said that they were part of a research team for peace and development that had come to evaluate communities for possible projects.

As a result, the community decided to leave their villages if the military insisted on staying. They did not want to get caught in military operations. Together with ALCADEV and TRIFPSS students and staff, they walked for seven hours from Han-ayan to the municipal gym in Lianga. They joined 48 families from the community of Logdeck, who have been displaced for a month as a result of military operations in their area.

This is the third time in five years that an evacuation has occurred. There were previous evacuations in 2005 and 2007. Militarization is a perennial problem in the area. When soldiers enter a community and visit people’s houses, the people become too scared to farm. There is also forced recruitment of the lumads into bagani force as part of the province-wide Task Force Gantangan.

The evacuees say that they need food, and eventually, medicine, if the evacuation continues to last. Water supplies are low and there is a lack of latrines. There are no beds and some people do not even have mats to lie on.

“The military should respect our culture and recognize our efforts at building a sustainable and secure economy,” says Jose* a member of the organization Malahutayong Pagkibisog Alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU).

After every evacuation, the people must start their livelihoods again. As a result, there is little development.

MAPASU member Jean* says that if the military insists on working in the mountain communities, they should not operate in the communities but in the mountains. Community members add that the military should stop forcing lumads to join the bagani force.

All of the evacuees hope to return home soon.

*Names have been changed to protect the people’s identities

Prepared by:
Research and Documentation Desk
Social Action Center, Diocese of Tandag