Tribal leaders condemn NPA for using villagers as shield in Surigao Sur

Tribal leaders in the town of Lianga, Surigao del Sur have condemned the New People’s Army (NPA) communist terrorists for using an entire community of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) as human shield in an encounter with the Philippine Army on July 20, 2020.

The encounter that took place at Sitio Panukmuran, Barangay Diatagon was the result of Philippine Army security operations in response to the NPA’s threat to destroy the newly-constructed Department of Education (DepEd) IP school and harassment tribal communities in the area.

During the encounter, NPA terrorists fled and mixed with the IP community to evade government forces that caused alarm and chaos on civilians, Lt. Col. Joel Baybayan, Philippine Army 3rd Special Forces battalion (3SFBn) said.

Army soldiers were forced to position in a distance as the villagers were scared in commotion when the NPA terrorists entered the community to shield themselves from government forces, Baybayan said.

Hawudon Jumar Bucales, the tribal representative to the Lianga municipal council, lambasted the NPA for putting the lives of Manobo civilians in danger.

“We call on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR), the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), and International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) and other rights groups to condemn in the highest terms and take action against communist NPA terrorists who use the IP community as human shields,” Bucales said.

Bucales said the NPA rebels have been infiltrating IP communities for years, exploiting tribesmen, and forcing them to join the communist movement.

“Unknown to the international arena and self-proclaimed rights advocates, communist NPA terrorists infiltrates the IP communities to force the tribe to become members of their underground mass organizations, politico-military structure and eventually, party members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and National Democratic Front (NDF) in order to sustain the NPA terrorists in the far-flung sitios,” Bucales said.

Bucales, together with Datu Ric Maca, the Indigenous People Mandatory Representative (IPMR) of San Miguel town, recently condemned the NPA and their front organizations for “spreading lies” against the Philippine Army in Surigao del Sur.

At least 39 families in Sitio Panukmuran were forced to temporarily settle in nearby areas when the NPA rebels entered their community after the encounter, 3SFBn civil-military operations officer 1Lt. Krisjuper Andreo Punsalan said.

“The families are now safe as the local government unit (LGU) of Lianga, together with the Indigenous People Mandatory Representative (IPMR) and the tribal chieftain of Lianga immediately assisted the families by providing them food and other basic needs,” Punsalan told the Philippine News Agency.

“We were not able to continue our pursuit operation after the firefight because of the danger considering that the CNTs were able to mix with the civilians who were also in chaos at that time,” Punsalan said.

Punsalan said the Army recovered from the encounter site several high-power firearms, ammunition, mobile phones, medical supplies, and other belongings of the rebels.

Punsalan said pursuit operation immediately resumed after the NPA rebels left the community and after determining that the civilians were already safe.

As the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the NPA, is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, President Rodrigo Duterte said that these communist rebels are the top terrorist threat in the Philippines.

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