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Army denies restricting food aid to lumad ‘bakwits’

By Ben Serrano

Manobo residents fled their homes in Lianga, Surigao del Sur in the wake of a military operation against communist rebels. Photo courtesy of Higala: Friends of the lumad in Caraga

The military denied on Monday allegations it was blocking the entry of food and other relief goods into evacuation centers in the municipalities of Lianga and San Agustin in Surigao del Sur province.

Col Andres Centino, commander of the Army’s 401st Infantry Brigade, said there was no food blockade carried out by the military, contrary to claims of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development Inc. (Alcadev) and Tribal Filipino Program for Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS).

Centino said the military was only adhering to protocols agreed upon during a meeting by the Municipal Peace and Order Council (MPOC) of Lianga that all relief goods intended for the evacuees shall be coursed through the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Offices (MSWDOs).

He also said as part of their conflict management protocols, “outsiders” will be discouraged to go to conflict areas and those who have businesses there should first seek clearance from the LGU of Lianga to ensure their safety and security amid ongoing security operations against the New People’s Army (NPA).

“We also want to remind everyone especially those who have a malicious intent and guising themselves to be helping the internally-displaced persons if found out that you are in conspiracy with the terror group that we are addressing in the area, we will not hesitate to arrest you,” Centino warned.

The Army has been accused of blocking the entry of relief goods and restricting access to the evacuation center in Barangay Diatagon in Lianga, where more than a thousand internally-displaced persons are staying.

Chad Booc, a volunteer teacher at Alcadev, which runs an alternative learning system for indigenous youth in the Surigao and Agusan provinces, said the military only allowed on Thursday the entry of two sacks of rice into the center which serves around 250 internally-displaced families or around 1,100 people.

“The military is starving us. Public pressure is needed,” Alcadev said.

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