Away from home
TANDAG CITY, Surigao del Sur — At the Tandag City Sports Complex, the gates are strictly guarded. Only a few go in and even less go out, but the bleachers are far from empty. Thousands of people sleep on the concrete. Children play volleyball on a dry piece of land surrounded by makeshift tents.
Inside some of the tents are classrooms where kids draw colorful scenes of brutality. And hanging on the fences are clothes beside banners that read, “Hustisya para kay Dionel Campos, Emerito Samarca, at Bello Sinzo!” (Justice for Dionel Campos, Emerito Samarca, and Bello Sinzo!), “Save our schools”, and “Stop Lumad Killings”.
Threatened to be “massacred” if they do not leave their homes, more than 3,000 displaced Lumads, mostly Manobos from 27 communities, are seeking refuge in the evacuation center, and the numbers are continuing to rise. They fled their ancestral land in Lianga, carrying the dead bodies of their leaders, after witnessing the alleged murder of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) executive director Campos, and tribal leaders Samarca and Sinzo by a paramilitary group.
Over two weeks after the Lumads’ exodus, somehow life still goes on in the evacuation site in Tandag City Sports Complex. But life there is not easy. (READ: Timeline of the attacks on the Lumad of Mindanao)
A state of emergency was recently declared in Surigao del Sur due to imminent food shortage. The Lumads, who are used to eating vegetables and root crops, wish to grow vegetables in the complex but still haven’t found an area to plant in. They had no choice but to subsist on canned goods for several days.
Recently, NGOs like the Philippine Red Cross started providing food and water while Art Relief Mobile Kitchen distributes healthy meals to the evacuees once a day. Some Manobos help them cook food to be distributed to their respective communities in the evacuation area. The local government and churches have also extended their help to the Lumads.
However, because of the drastic change in their diet, the infrequency of meals, and the living conditions in the evacuation area, a lot of Lumads have started getting sick.
“Talagang mahirap ang buhay namin dito. Lalong lalo na pag mainit ang araw...tapos pag nag-uulan, binabaha ang tinutulugan namin,” said Tenia Garay, one of the evacuees, who lives in an open tent.
(Life here is really difficult, especially when the sun is hot. When it rains, our tents are easily flooded)
“Ang dami nang nagkasakit”, said Hazel Acero from the Community Based Health Project (CBHP) (A lot of people are getting sick). According to Acero, an asthmatic four-year-old girl already died due to heart disease.
The leading form of illness is respiratory infection due to the living conditions inside the complex. There have also been cases of diarrhea and sore eyes.
To prevent the spread of illnesses, the regional office of the Department of Health are immunizing children below 5 years old and adults older than 60 against pneumonia, tuberculosis, hepatitis, measles, and rota virus.
Aside from diseases, another concern is the welfare of the Manobo infants. One newborn baby lives in the evacuation center while 11 women are due to give birth in September.
Linked to health problems is the sanitation of the area. Most of them sit, eat, and sleep on the ground, but the main problem of the evacuees is the maintenance of the portalets provided by the Department of Health. There are 10 portalets for over 3,000 Lumads. The portalets are emptied only once a week. When the lines are too long, they cannot help defacate in the open.
How they cope
Despite their current situation, life goes on. Children study in makeshift tents where Tribal Filipino Program for Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) and ALCADEV have resumed classes. They start the day by singing Lupang Hinirang and reciting Panatang Makabayan and proceed to the tents where they listen to lectures, make collages, learn traditional dances, and play sports.
But it is clear that the wounds have not healed. Children draw cartoon versions of the atrocities they witnessed while the widow of Dionel Campos is brought to tears whenever she is asked, “Kamusta ka?” (How are you?)
To help them cope, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) facilitates psychosocial therapy through art and play for kids while adults can undergo voluntary counseling.
“Hindi lang pagkain at tirahan ang kailangan”, explained Birthday Quinto of DSWD, referring to critical incidence stress debriefing, which they conduct for those who are willing to talk about their traumatic experiences.
(They need more than food and shelter)
But more than food, psychosocial support, shelter, and medicines, Garay and her fellow Lumads need justice, security, and peace in order to return to their homes.
“[Ang] prinsipal na pananawagan [namin] ay paalisin ang militar at wasakin ang grupo ng paramilitar...at makasuhan rin ang militar na kasama sa pagpatay ng aming lider”, demanded Garay, who claims that she and her family were once held hostaged and starved by the military inside their houses.
(Our primary demand is the demilitarization of our homes and schools, the disbandment of paramilitaries, and justice for our leaders).
The mother of Dionel Campos, who saw her own son shot in the head, wishes that justice is served immediately so they can return to their livelihoods. “Pagkabalik namin dun baka wala na yung mga pananim namin, maghihintay na naman kami ng anim na buwan para sa pananim naming mais at kamote. Anim na buwan pa bago kami makakain ulit. Kaya yan talaga ang malaking problema namin, pagkabalik namin dun ay wala na ang aming pangkabuhayan na pananim... Napakahirap talagang isipin,” she explained in Bisaya.
(Our crops - corn and sweet potato - might be gone by the time we get home. We will have to wait another six months before we get to eat again. That’s our biggest problem. We might lose our livelihood. It’s difficult to think about it)
While the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have denied the murder accusations, the Lumads are not leaving unless justice is served and military and paramilitary groups flee their schools and ancestral lands.
Until then, the displaced Lumads will continue to live in fear and uncertainty under their makeshift tents in Tandag. - Rappler.com