Dialogue tapers off rift between troops, tribesmen in Lake Sebu

March 24, 2012 1:42 am 

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, March 23 — A brewing rift between the military and a tribal community in the coal-rich town of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato was averted after the parties patched things up in a dialogue held in Koronadal City on Thursday.

Present during the dialogue were representatives of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), 27th Infantry Battalion, the religious-run Hessed Foundation, and the Taboli Manubo S’daf Claimants Organization (TAMASCO).

Sister Susan Bolanio, who represented Hessed, said they were happy with the results of the dialogue, which was facilitated due to the fear of TAMASCO members of perceived military harassment.

TAMASCO is a tribal community in Sitio Datal Bonlangon in Barangay Ned, which is one of the beneficiaries of Hessed’s social works.

“They can now return to farming [in their community]. It’s a fruitful dialogue,” she told reporters.

Bolanio said the group’s leader, Datu Victor Danyan, left the community when soldiers from the 27th IB earlier looked for him, fearing that he would be a “wanted person” if he would not surface.

The soldiers fired a shot in the community during an incident last Feb. 3 that since sowed fear among the tribal members.

Lt. Col. Alexis Bravo, 27th IB commanding officer, admitted but said the incident was a result of “miscommunication and misinterpretation.”

He assured the tribal community that their leader was not a wanted person and that the soldiers merely wanted to speak to him to establish rapport with them.

“Maybe our troops over-reacted due to a potential threat [that’s why a warning shot was fired],” Bravo said, referring to the apparent resistance shown by some community members who were reportedly armed with indigenous weapons and an air gun.

Days before the incident, security guards of a coffee company wearing military uniforms allegedly intimidated the community, residents said. The military vowed to investigate this claim.

Bravo said troops had been deployed in Barangay Ned after confirming that the communist New People’s Army (NPA) established a presence in the village.

But Danyan said Sitio Datal Bonlangon was not an NPA-infested community.

Bravo said they have never suspected the residents of Sitio Datal Bonlangon as either members or supporters of the NPA. He said a former NPA member operating in Barangay Ned recently returned to the folds of the law and knows the sitios in the barangay with supporters of the communist movement.

Following the dialogue, TAMASCO members said they would welcome the military if they come and visit their community again. (PNA)

RMA/LAM/AVE/RSS

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