“It was our first time to see helicopters, but we were running away from it”
TALAINGOD, Davao del Norte – “It was our first time to see helicopters, but instead of coming closer, we ran away and hid from it,” Langlan Colot, a corn farmer from Inalay village in Barangay Dagohoy here, recounted his experience on March 14 when military choppers launched air strikes in the village.Colot could not tell his age when interviewed by MindaNews Sunday afternoon. He said he has been accustomed to not knowing how old he is. Like a child, the middle-aged farmer said he was amazed, however, in hearing the approaching military helicopters.
But when they started shelling an area in the village, he said, we ran away and hid behind piled logs.
“In a situation like that you can’t think of something else, but save your life,” he said.
“It would have been better if those who were firing are soldiers because we can call their attention and talk to them,” he said in the vernacular.
“How can we talk to helicopters? They are high above. We are nothing compared to them,” he said.
Colot, his wife and five children are among 32 families who fled Inalay, a village of the Ata Manobo tribe in the hinterlands of this remote town, three hours by car north of Davao City.
It would cost at least P500 to travel by habal habal [passenger motorcycle], the only means of public transportation from Inaloy to Talaingod town proper.
He said they fled fearing they might be caught in the crossfire between the military and para-military group Alamara against the New Peoples Army [NPA].
“It would be better if we will be stuck in the crowded rooms of the Tibucag school, as long as we are safe,” he said.
The evacuees were reportedly housed in the school for 10 days since they fled a day after the air strike.
Human rights group Karapatan said three children were hurt in the air strike, following another assault in the area six days before.
The alleged victims were identified as Carding Colot, 15; Lariang Colot, 12; and and Ongag Taluwa, 11.
Karapatan estimated a total of 79 Ata Manobo families, including those who fled from Laslasakan, another village in nearby Palma Gil barangay.
The military, however, denied any civilian were hurt as they were only pursuing “visible members of the New People’s Army.”
Major Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command, told MindaNews Sunday the March 14 air strike was part of a continuous operation in the area.
He accused Karapatan of brushing on the military alleged civilian atrocities, which he denied. “There were no civilians hurt in those air strikes,” he said.
Cabangbang insisted on using the phrase “air strikes”, not “bombing” during a phone interview with MindaNews Sunday night. He said they targeted NPA members in the area, who were reportedly sighted in Inalay.
He accused Karapatan of kidnapping a language tutor identified earlier as Danilo Paraynon, who could possibly attest to the incident.
The human rights group denied kidnapping any teacher and clarified “Danilo Paraynon” does not exist.
Kelly M. Delgado, secretary general of Karapatan southern Mindanao, told MindaNews in a telephone interview the military is in a “state of denial” on its alleged human rights violations.
But he identified Danilo Maylas as the language tutor who came to Davao City “voluntarily” on March 22 along with four community leaders to seek Karapatan’s help.
Maylas and the tribal leaders have since filed a complaint at the Commission on Human Rights over the alleged violations of the military.
He said the military is deceiving the public over the bombing of the civilian community.
Delgado said Maylas’ affidavit said the M-203 bullet that exploded and hurt the children came from the two helicopters bombarding the village.
“If they said the strikes were meant for the NPA visible in the area, then they should strike at the rebel position not at the tribal communities,” he said.
Colot, speaking in broken Cebuano and was communicating with an interpreter, told MindaNews, however, the three children were hurt accidentally after the M-203 bullet they mistook for a toy exploded.
He said coincidentally, the military launched air strikes moments after the incident at a position estimated to be less than 1,000 meters away from the children.
He said fleeing their home has caused his displaced family insecurity, especially that food and medicine supply in Tibucag is running out.
Colot has to weed for a living at a corn farm nearby. “But half a day’s work is only P20 and work comes scarcely,” he said. Talaingod mayor Pilar Libayon assured the local government will take care of the evacuees’ needs [see related story].
He cited the situation of his wife who gave birth to their youngest child less than a year ago and his four other children. The Colots’ children are out of school.
He appealed for food and medicine for his family and the rest of the evacuees saying they would stay in Tibucag until the government assures them it is safe to return.
“Please send in food and medicine. But our greatest need is to go home. We want to live normally,” he said. [Walter I. Balane/MindaNews]