Villagers displaced by fighting ahead of Philippine peace talks

Displaced residents said they won't go back to their community until fighting ceases
Villagers displaced by fighting ahead of Philippine peace talks

Villagers seek temporary shelter in the provincial capital of Misamis Oriental after they fled their homes in a remote village in the southern Philippines on May 26. (Photo by Jigger Jerusalem)

Week-long fighting between government security forces and communist rebels in the southern Philippines has displaced at least 100 villagers ahead of scheduled peace negotiations aimed at ending almost five decades of conflict.

Fighting between New People's Army guerrillas and Philippine Army soldiers erupted on May 26 in the remote village of Banglay in the town of Lagonglong and has since driven residents out of their homes.

The displaced villagers have since sought shelter in the provincial capitol of Misamis Oriental.

Sarisa Acosta, who acted as spokeswoman of the affected community, said the latest incident was the sixth since 2012 that people in her village fled their homes for fear of being caught in the fighting.

"Our appeal to the government is to help us go back to our homes after the military finished its operations," Acosta told ucanews.com in an interview.

Reynaldo Ayuma, a tribal leader from the village of Minkamansi, said they will not leave the capitol grounds until fighting stops. "We don't mind if we stay for a year or more," he said.

The tribal leader said his people are also appealing to the soldiers not to set up camps in villages. "They can camp out, but it must be far from where we are. We don't to be caught in a crossfire," he said.

Angie Compas, a 26 year-old-mother of four who has just given birth to her youngest child two weeks ago, said she and her family had to join the exodus to the provincial capitol for their own safety.

"We heard gunshots and loud noise. I think those came from cannons. We did not wait to get killed. We fled when we were able," she told ucanews.com in the local language.

Fernando Dy Jr., head of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, said his office had already put in place a "response protocol" to ensure that the needs of the displaced families are addressed.

A military report said several rebel fighters were already killed while a soldier was wounded in the fighting.

Lt. Col. Roy Anthony Derilo, commander of the Army's 58th Infantry Battalion, said the soldiers were earlier deployed to clear the village of insurgents prior to the building of government projects in the area.

Protestant Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform said the clashes in Misamis Oriental should be among the reasons to hasten the revival of the stalled peace negotiations.

Government and communist negotiators are set to resume peace talks on June 28 after decades of fighting.

The bishop said that if given the chance to give the opening prayer for the peace talks, he would pray for the farmers and other vulnerable sectors of society.

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"I would ask the negotiators to talk as if the evacuees are outside the venue of the talks," said Bishop Calang. "[They] should feel the consequences of delaying the signing of agreements that are long awaited by the poor and powerless," said the prelate.

The government and rebel peace panels are expected to sign an interim peace agreement within the month as part of mechanisms for the peace talks to continue.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared the cancellation of the talks last year following attacks mounted by the rebels on police and military installations.

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