A total of 28 families from the Higaonon community of Sitio Bulak, Buenavista, Agusan del Norte evacuated on March 16, 2016 due to the alarming presence of elements of the 23rd Infantry Battalion (IB) Philippine Army.
Proclaiming they bring only peace and development to the community, military men allegedly proceeded to interrogate members of the community, and threatened to kill them if their answers unsatisfactory.
The military men first looked for Sario Mandahinog, the chairperson of the Higaonon organization, Pig-akuman. Since he was away for a meeting, they demanded to talk instead to the organization’s secretary, Ayan Belayong. The talk turned out to be an interrogation, the military accusing of coddling members of the New People’s Army (NPA) when he couldn’t answer who the women who ran away when the military arrived were.
Another resident, Rosemarie Binungcasan, was forced to talk about a sack of supplies she allegedly hid behind their church when the military came. When she couldn’t answer about the sack, the military threatened to arrest her.
The 23rd IB then rounded up the community and proceeded to take a census of the whole population. They remained in the community until the night, and occupied the local elementary school as their sleeping quarters.
On the morning of March 15, at around 10:00 o’clock in the morning, the 28 families, composed of 132 individuals, left their community and walked to Brgy. Upper Olave, about eight kilometers from Sitio Bulak. Mandahinog, who had already returned from the barangay session the night before, led the group, together with the community chieftain, Datu Malito Sigahan. But at the waiting shed of Afga, Purok 10 of Brgy. Upper Olave, Mandahinog was detained and interrogated by more members of the 23rd IB for an hour.
At dusk of that same day, the evacuees already gathered at the multi-purpose hall of Brgy. Upper Olave, the 23rd IB arrived. They came in with a ‘Commander Bawang,’ who is said to have created the paramilitary group Gantangan responsible for various human rights violations in indigenous communities. They alleged that the evacuees were supporting the NPA. Among those whom they interrogated were Datu Malito Sigahan, Danny Mandahinog and Toto Baro. They reproached Datu Sigahan for leading the evacuees and ordered him to bring his people back to Sitio Bulak.
The community, however, refuses to return unless the 23rd IB respect their customary laws, stop their unjust accusations, and cease their military operations within their communities.
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