Evacuee narrates story: “How can we talk to helicopter?”

TALAINGOD, Davao del Norte – “It was our first time to see helicopters up
close, but instead of moving closer, we ran away and hid,” Langlan Colot, a
corn farmer from Sitio Inaloy village in Barangay Dagohoy here, recounted
his experience on March 14 when military helicopters launched air strikes in
the village.

chopper.jpg
Photo grabbed from Geocities.com

Colot, a middle-aged Ata-Manobo, told MindaNews Sunday afternoon that like a
child, he was amazed hearing the approaching 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 Inaloy, a
village of the Ata Manobo tribe in the hinterlands of this remote town,
three hours by car north of Davao City and at least P500 on motorcycle from
Barangay Sto. Nino, or what is touted to be the town center.

Colot said they fled fearing they might be caught in the crossfire between
the military and paramilitary group Alamara and the New Peoples Army (NPA).
“It’s better to be stuck in the crowded rooms of the Tibucag school, as long
as we are safe,” he said.

The evacuees have spent 10 days in the school since the March 14 air strike.

The human rights group Karapatan said three children were hurt during the
air strike Carding Colot, 16; Lariang Colot, 12; and and Ongag Taluwa, 10.

Karapatan estimated a total of 79 Ata Manobo families, including those who
fled from Laslasakan, another village in nearby Palma Gil barangay.

The military denied civilians were hurt, claiming 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 that the March 14 air strike was part of a
continuous operation in the area.

He accused Karapatan of focusing on the alleged atrocities committed by
soldiers against civilians. “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 Inaloy.

He accused Karapatan of allegedly kidnapping a language tutor identified
earlier as Danilo Paraynon.

Karapatan denied kidnapping any teacher and clarified “Danilo Paraynon” does
not exist.

Kelly Delgado, secretary general of Karapatan southern Mindanao, told
MindaNews in a telephone interview that the military is in a “state of
denial” on its alleged human rights violations in Talaingod.

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 against the alleged violations of the military.

He said the military is deceiving the public on the bombing of the civilian
community.

Delgado said Maylas’ affidavit said the M-203 ammunition 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 communicating with an interpreter,
told MindaNews, the three children were hurt accidentally after the M-203
ammunition they mistook for a toy exploded.

Colot said fleeing has caused his displaced family insecurity, especially
that food and medicine supply in Tibucag is running out.

Colot has to clean a corn farm nearby. “But half a day’s work is only P20
and work comes scarcely,” he said.

Talaingod mayor Pilar Libayao assured the local government will take care of
the evacuees’ needs.

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)

About mindanaw

A Journalist from Mindanao

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