Filipino villagers flee homes in anti-communist sweep

Military use of intimidating tactics blamed for exodus of tribal people
Filipino villagers flee homes in anti-communist sweep

Tribal people in the southern Philippine province of Surigao del Sur leave their homes for fear of renewed fighting between government troops and communist rebels. (Photo courtesy of Father Raymond Ambray)

July 10, 2017
Some 2,000 tribal people in the southern Philippine province of Surigao del Sur have fled their homes over the past few days for fear of military harassment.

The villagers said they were forced to leave their communities after they heard a military plane circling on July 5.

Soldiers also reportedly set up camp in the middle of a tribal community and urged suspected communist rebels to surrender or be killed.

Residents said they could not sleep out of fear because the soldiers required people to ask permission before going to their farms.

"We are not terrorists, but we are targeted by military operations," said Josephine Pagalan, a council member of the tribal group Sandugo.

She said tribal communities in the province have yet to recover from displacement.

For more than a year, many stayed in an evacuation center in the lowlands after militiamen, reportedly in the employ of the military, killed their leaders.

The killing of tribal leaders in the province turned at least seven indigenous communities into virtual "ghost villages" in 2015.

"Our lives and our children's future are destroyed, and the children's schooling interrupted," Pagalan said.

She said the "military approach" to the communist insurgency in their area is not an effective solution.

"If President [Rodrigo] Duterte really wants to end the rebellion, he first needs to resolve ... poverty, land grabbing of ancestral lands, and violence," said Pagalan.

Human rights group Karapatan said residents fleeing have affected a total of 633 tribal children and 43 volunteer teachers in five tribal community schools.

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