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Rough Cuts | The never-ending Haran evacuees story

It’s probably over two years now since the Lumad from various upland communities in the Davao and Cotabato regions, and from Bukidnon were reported to have evacuated to a center inside the compound of the Brokenshire Medical Hospital, Inc. at Wireless in Davao City. The center is called Haran and is administered by the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP), founder of the Brokenshire Hospital.

Being with this paper for long we had been able to follow closely the stories told and retold about the so-called evacuation. Oftentimes these were contradicting, depending on who is or are the sources of the stories.

During the months of the Lumad’ stay at the Haran some incidents happened seemingly adversely affecting the evacuees. And as expected these were claimed by the evacuees or those who are running the center to have been perpetrated by government forces through its agents that included members of the upland para-military unit Alamara and some lumad leaders who are reportedly “used” by the military for their anti-insurgency campaign in the hinterlands.

However, as months went by and the “noise” supposedly brought about by the flight of the Lumad from their communities to their urban host center, slowly died down. And in the last few months nothing was heard about them until the reported escape of some 31 evacuees last May 18.

Again the story has two faces. From the military side it says that the Lumad had long wanted to go back to their respective communities and lead normal lives again.

According to earlier reports, most if not all, of the lumad evacuees were convinced by certain groups of activists from the lowlands that their ancestral domains are already usurped by investors who are backed by government forces in forcing them out of their lands.

On the side of the military, the tales told them by the “escapee” Lumad including those who succeeded in getting out of the Haran facility earlier, give a totally different scenario. That is, that the Lumad at the Haran have long been dreaming of returning to their upland residences. Unfortunately, the government forces claimed, they were told by the escapee Lumad that the leaders of the groups that brought them down were persuading them to stay. They were told, the military authorities said, to stay put in the center or they will have to risk their lives as the military and their allies are still in their communities ready to drive them back to evacuation, or harm them without mercy to protect the interests of their investor patrons.

Really it is difficult to determine who between the two sides in this tug-of-war between the government security forces and the activist organizations hosting the evacuee Lumad is telling the truth. However, there are intriguing issues that can be easily connected to the lumad exodus that seems to be the bone of contention between the two groups.

First, it’s been quite long since the Lumad’ “exodus” to the Haran in the city’s central district. Who is, or are, subsidizing their food requirements on a daily basis? If it is purely generosity on the part of the UCCP to foot the bills of the Lumad’ stay how long will such trait last and at how much cost? And if it is true that the evacuation “sponsors” are definite as to the identities of the investors that are grabbing the Lumad’ ancestral domain why cannot they hail them to court along with the soldiers they claim to have supported the encroachment and protected the interest of the investors?

Meanwhile, how come that despite the length of time that the controversial evacuation “kuno” had dominated the pages of both local and national papers as well as the airlanes, the government forces are still in the process of knowing who are the leaders of the activist groups forcing the evacuee Lumad to stay put inside the center? The government security forces should have filed charges against those leaders of the activist groups.

The militant lumad backers on the other hand, should have also long gone to the court if they really have the beef against the military. In the process the internally-displaced Lumad will have the opportunity to decide for themselves whether to return to their communities or remain inside the Haran given the scenario after the resolution of the case or cases.

We firmly believe that only a court deliberation can fully establish the actual situation — or close to it — in the communities concerned. After all, the court can call those who have remained in their upland domain to either prove or disprove the militants’ allegations.

And the same court can also order the appearance of the leaders of the evacuees’ hosts as well as the remaining Lumad inside the Haran to substantiate their claims of systematic deprivation and harassments.

So, what is holding the two parties from doing what could be the best option to settle the issue once and for all? The longer they maintain the tug-of-war the more it creates doubts in the minds of people that indeed they may be serving certain vested interest groups.

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