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Hundreds flee as NPA men sighted in MisOr town

More than a hundred families from two upland villages here fled their homes after dozens of gun-wielding men were sighted in their communities Monday afternoon, a local government official said Tuesday.

Opol Mayor Maximino Seno said as of Tuesday afternoon about 115 families or 523 individuals left barangays Nangcaon and Tingalan to seek shelter at the municipal evacuation center for fear of the armed individuals suspected to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Most of the evacuees arrived at the evacuation site on Monday afternoon, and another group of residents came down from their villages on Tuesday afternoon.

Following the mass evacuation, Seno said the town council declared on Tuesday a state of calamity in thevillages of Nangcaon, Tingalan, Limonda and Cauyonan. He said this will enable the local government to utilize its calamity fund for the evacuees’ food provisions while they are staying at the evacuation site.

Some 200 suspected NPA fighters were seen crisscrossing the mountain villages and were trying to recruit locals to their group prompting residents to leave their homes, the mayor said, citing information provided by villagers.

“Most of those who fled were approached and tried to be recruited by the NPA,” Seno said, adding the military has already conducted clearing operations in the affected barangays.

Seno hopes the displaced villagers can go back to their home the soonest possible time, though he assured the evacuees that their basic needs such as food would be taken care of.

Gennys Mangcunsay, a village councilor at Nangcaon, said many of the residents felt threatened by the presence of the armed group, which grew larger since they were spotted passing by the highland communities in the past few days.

“We had to get away because we feel it is dangerous for us if they (armed group) are in our community,” Mangcunsay, who’s also a tribal leader, said.

Mangcunsay said Seno ordered the municipal trucks to fetch the residents after barangay leaders made the request.

Rosendo Lucnoran, 60, a farmer residing at Zone 3 in Nangcaon, said he personally saw and even talked to some members of the armed group, who only identified themselves as “sundalo sa kabus” (army of the poor) and not as NPA.

“When I asked them if they are NPA, one of them told me, "we are the army of the poor. We will protect you." I replied: ‘How can you protect us when we fear you? You even killed innocent people,’” he recounted.

Lucnoran said most of the guerrillas were young people, many of them women. They were seen passing by and talking to residents in the past few days.

He said those who he interacted with did not try to recruit him or his neighbors but were looking for some persons, adding the fighters have a list of names with them and were asking for the whereabouts of those on the list.

Police Senior Superintendent Roland Destura, Misamis Oriental provincial police chief, said said they have already alerted the municipal police offices in the neighboring towns to be on a lookout for the presence of the armed group.

In a separate interview, Captain Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division, warned fighting could erupt between government troops and the armed group if the latter would linger on the area longer.

Martinez said they received reports that the armed individuals were members of the NPA, whose presence has intensified in the area following setbacks in several encounters with state forces in neighboring Bukidnon province.

Jigger J. Jerusalem / PNA