By Media Mindanao News Service
(August 15, 1987 News Digest Volume 1, August 1987-July 1988 Posted by Davao Today)
DAVAO CITY (MMNS) — One barangay official-turned-evacuee once lamented: “Nakatilaw na mi og unsa kapait ang mahatungnan sa duha ka pwersa. Dili gyud lalim.” (We have already experienced being caught in the middle of a shoot-out. It is no joke.)
For the past six months since the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) collapse, the Task Force Detainees-Davao Sub-Regional office and published reports from the local tabloids listed 22 incidents of evacuation in Davao City and the three Davao provinces. The mass exodus involved 10,163 families. All were triggered by the escalating conflict between government troops, paramilitary, pseudo-religious fanatics and vigilantes on one side, and the NDF forces on the other.
The evacuees admitted having left their farms and belongings and opted to stay longer in the scattered evacuation centers than “get caught in a crossfire” between the two contending forces. Often, they complained of being arbitrarily suspected as New People’s Army supporters or sympathizers. They said that when the military declares their area an “NPA stronghold,” the worst is to be expected.
“Dili tuod ang mga sibilyan ang kaaway sa military, pero dili man mopili ang kanyon kon kinsay ig-on,” a middle-aged farmer quipped.” (It is true that civilians are not the enemies of the military but bombs do not choose targets.)
Over three-fourths of the 22 cases of evacuation incidents were accompanied with aerial bombings and strafings and cannonades, often unannounced. In one instance, a farmer-evacuee from sitio Tubison, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur related how he spotted a “plane spraying yellow fumes” over their area. He added that the livestocks he brought with him at the evacuation center died. Evacuees also noted knee-deep bomb craters, fallen trees and shattered houses even as the military operations against the NPA guerrillas continued for at least a week up to two months.
In an interview, Davao Metrodiscom Commander Lt. Col. Franco Calida told a fact-finding team: “You should not be apprehensive about news regarding evacuation of some residents. Because the people there are not evacuating because of grave operation, but because they know that there is an operation going on against the NPAs and they (the residents) welcome this.”
Only one incident of evacuation was blamed on the NPAs involving 500 families. The evacuees recalled about 100 armed men came to their place and warned the people to stop “active” participation in the vigilante movement. The rest were instigated by the government troopers, either through unannounced operation or direct military order to evacuate. One Carlos Miasiro, 43 and a farmer of a sitio in Davao del Sur narrated that a platoon of soldiers and Tadtad fanatics led by a certain Rudy instructed them to evacuate in five minutes “because the enemies (referring to the NPAs) are coming to terrorize you.”
Davao del Norte topped the list of the most number of evacuation cases (12) occurring within a month period (between February and March). Davao del Sur, though last in the list with only two cases, became one big refugee center when 3,531 families from 25 scattered barangays trekked towards safer barangays and town centers. Most of the evacuees stayed three months.
Davao City came second to Davao del Sur in terms of a single evacuation incident involving most number of affected families. Affected were 2,886 families who remained in the evacuation centers for nearly three months. This particular incident was triggered by the threat aired over the radio by known vigilante stalwart “Jun” Porras Pala of “surrender on or before March 7 or face the consequence.” Subsequently, helicopters bombed and strafed the areas around the Mandug-Callawa-Indangan perimeters. Ma. Teresa Prudencio, a six-month pregnant Justice and Peace worker was killed allegedly in a “crossfire.”
The most recent was the Paquibato case. Some Christian settlers of sitio Mapula fled after the massacre of 10 persons allegedly by Ata tribesmen who were Civilian Home Defense Force members.
Conditions at the evacuation centers aggravated the socio-psychological effects of dislocation. Children were the worst hit of diseases ranging from colds and coughs to measles to third degree malnutrition in Barangay Astorga, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur alone. Relief missions from government and private agencies did bring short-lived comfort to the evacuees. (Media Mindanao News Service August 15, 1987 News Digest Volume 1, August 1987-July 1988 Posted by Davao Today)