MALAYBALAY CITY — The Army’s 60th Infantry Battalion (60IB) discovered the Ata Manobo tribal village of Sitio Tapayanon which has been used by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) as their run-to ‘hideout’ in Cabanglasan town, Bukidnon, the army said. In a statement Friday, the Army said they discovered this following a recent run of military operations in the hinterland tri-boundary of Bukidnon, Agusan del Sur, and Davao del Norte provinces.
Upon conducting civil-military operations in the area, the tribal leaders of Sitio Tapayanon revealed that their village has been used by the different units of the CPP-NPA as its harboring site for several years. The terrorist hideouts discovered around the area, the Army said, may have been abandoned for as recent as a week ago. The Army said it could have accommodated around 30 to 80 persons at any one time. Other items found in the area include improvised tables and beds, rice husks, and fresh food wastes.
“At first, we thought they are the government. Whenever they are here, they would order us (leaders) and our sons to man security posts while they order our wives to plant and collect food for their consumption,” the village’s tribal chieftain, Datu Bansing, said in the vernacular during a community dialogue initiated by 60IB. “When they decide to move to the next village (sitio), they bring with them our children to carry their supplies, backpacks, and magazines/ammunition.
For a long time, our tribe hasn’t had the slightest idea that we were being run by communist terrorists,” he added. The 60IB assessed that the village, being geographically isolated, has little or no access to mainstream society, thus became a very easy and convenient target for the CPP-NPA terrorists’ exploitation.
Datu Bansing himself has once joined the Manilakbayan, a series of protest rallies organized by the CPP-NPA’s legal fronts supposedly to raise awareness on the indigenous peoples’ plight in Mindanao. During the initial run of focused military operations in the area, the 60IB recovered five firearms and discovered four CPP-NPA lairs in the vicinity of the village, confirming the tribal leaders’ claim. Members of the NPA’s Guerilla Front 6 (GF 6) surrendered to the troops, further affirming the CPP-NPA’s influence in the village. Three of the surrenderers are minors.
A certain “Lyn,” 15, a resident of Sitio Tapayanon, and medic on-training of GF 6, claimed that she has been under the “care” of the CPP-NPA since she was a child. A certain alias Toto, her team leader in the NPA, took her in when she was only three years old. Lyn, however, also claims that she has only joined as a regular member and been issued her own firearm in 2018. Meanwhile, alias Weng, 14 years old; alias MJ (Lyn’s older sister), 16 years old; and her husband, alias Bran, 23 years old, were all forced to join the CPP-NPA in February this year after Lyn’s father asked Bran to fetch Lyn from Toto.
Bran, who asked MJ and Weng to accompany him, never returned to his father-in-law and were forced to join GF 6 after Toto threatened their lives if they insist to leave. On March 11, after another round of dialogue with the tribal leaders, the villagers voluntarily revealed the identities of their Militia ng Bayan (MB) and surrendered 11 more NPA-issued firearms to 60IB. Datu Bansing said this is their way of expressing that they are 100 percent ready to cooperate with the government especially if this means real peace and development for their village and the end of the CPP-NPA’s exploitation of their tribe.
Lt. Col. Gilbert Ombos, 60IB commander, said that this ‘discovery’ is both a challenge and an opportunity considering the on-going implementation of Executive Order 70 or the ‘whole-of-nation’ approach to end the insurgency. With the help of the various local government units within 60IB’s Area of Operations, 60IB was able to bring an initial PHP200,000 worth of aid to Sitio Tapayanon such as medicine, rice, canned goods, noodles, coffee, corn seeds, and assorted vegetable seeds.
On March 13, the 10th Infantry Division Medical Team conducted a medical civic action program in Tapayanon benefitting around 300 residents. Datu Bansing Balanban says this is the first time a real medical doctor has ever reached their village. The 60IB is currently liaising with the concerned LGUs, other government agencies, and non-government organizations to also send aid and initiate other interventions for Sitio Tapayanon.
Meanwhile, under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program, 60IB is also facilitating the proper disposition and turnover of the surrendered minor rebels. “What we wish to show the enemy is [that] we don’t have mercy for those who insist to fight. But [that] we are gentle and forgiving to those who yield and choose peace. Our government is here and ready to serve full-time whether they [CPP-NPA] like it or not,” Ombos added. Around 40 of the former rebels who surrendered to 60IB in 2018 are from the boundary villages of Bukidnon, Agusan del Sur, Davao del Norte, and Compostela Valley Province.
Most of them are indigenous peoples and a considerable number were either minors upon surrendering or were minors when recruited by the NPA. (PNA)