More than 1,000 evacuees return home after weeklong armed clashes

Some evacuees at Don Florencio Villafranca National High School in Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental were informed that they can now go back to their houses upon the instruction of the Philippine Army Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Himamaylan LGU)

By Glazyl Y. Masculino

BACOLOD City – The Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade (IBde) has given the local government of Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental the “go signal” to allow residents who were affected by the series of armed encounters in Barangay Carabalan, to return to their houses starting Saturday, Oct. 15.

Brigadier General Inocencio Pasaporte, 303rd IBde commander, said yesterday that most of the sitios in Barangay Carabalan, and one sitio in the neighboring village of Cabadiangan, have been cleared by military troopers of rebel threats.

Pasaporte said that only Sitios Sig-ang and Medel in Barangay Carabalan were not yet cleared, as the encounters with the New People’s Army (NPA) occurred in these areas from Oct. 6 to Oct. 12.

“Amat-amat lang anay, asta tanan makapauli na gid,” Pasaporte said.

Two personnel of the 94th Infantry Battalion (IB) were killed, while six others were wounded in a clash against fleeing NPA rebels at Sitio Sig-ang on Oct. 8. Two days later, alleged wanted NPA top leader Romeo Nanta alias “Juanito Magbanua” was also killed in another encounter with the 94th IB at Sitio Medel on Oct. 10.

Based on the advisory of the city government posted on social media yesterday, evacuees who were allowed to go home were those staying at Don Florencio Villafranca National High School and Manuel Yulo Elementary School.

Following this development, Mayor Raymund Tongson Jr. advised these schools to get ready for the resumption of classes.

Evacuees at Carabalan Elementary School and Carabalan village gymnasium were also allowed to go home, except for residents of Sitios Sig-ang and Medel, as well as Sitio Campayas, which is a neighboring sitio of the two areas.

In an advisory posted on his FB page, Tongson said the residents were allowed to go home based on the report submitted by the Philippine Army and the Incident Management Team (IMT) after a command conference.

It was decided that evacuees at the Don Florencio Villafranca National High School and Manuel Yulo Elementary School can return to their homes.

Meanwhile, Police Lieutenant Colonel Reynante Jomocan, Himamaylan City police chief, said that 234 families or more than 1,000 evacuees have initially returned home safely after more than a week of staying at various evacuation centers.

Jomocan said that this development came after the Army, police, rescuers, and the local government made an assessment of the current situation during their command conference last Saturday.

“Iban excited na magpinuli so nag mato-mato na lang sila since Saturday night,” Jomocan said. Others were extracted by the local government from the evacuation centers and were sent home yesterday.

Jomocan said the remaining evacuees from the three sitios in Barangay Carabalan were moved to the Regional Evacuation Center in Barangay 3 and covered court of Barangay 1, while there were also some residents of Barangay Payao in Binalbagan town who were affected as they are situated near the encounter site.

They are temporarily staying at Payao village hall, the police chief added.

Jomocan said the Army’s checkpoint remains until all sitios will be declared cleared.

‘No military lockdown’

The 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) clarified on Saturday that there was no military lockdown in Himamaylan City.

Major General Benedict Arevalo, 3ID commander, explained in a statement that they put up checkpoints as part of normal police and military procedures to ensure the safety of the residents living near the encounter sites and to prevent the NPAs from escaping the area.

“The people’s safety is our top priority. Keeping them safe against the cruelty of the NPA at all times is part of our sworn duty,” Arevalo said.

Arevalo said that with the support and commitment of the local government unit and other government agencies, particularly the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the troopers managed to continuously give food packs to the affected families.

“The unwavering support of various government agencies and stakeholders to the Army to include financial, emotional, and psychological help to the affected families is commendable,” Arevalo said.

He said they are doing their best to provide them with the utmost security and support while they temporarily take refuge at their designated evacuation centers. (With a report from Dolly Yasa)