OPOL, Misamis Oriental — More than a hundred families from two upland villages in Opol town, Misami Oriental fled their homes after dozens of suspected communist rebels were sighted in their communities Monday afternoon.
Mayor Maximino Seno said as of Tuesday afternoon, about 115 families or 523 individuals had left barangays Nangcaon and Tingalan to seek shelter at the municipal evacuation center, most arriving Monday afternoon, the rest a day later.
The evacuation prompted the town council to declare a state of calamity in the two villages as well as barangays Limonda and Cauyonan, allowing the local government to access funds to feed the displaced families.
Quoting the evacuees, Seno said some 200 suspected New People’s Army fighters were crisscrossing the mountain villages trying to recruit residents.
He added that the military has already conducted clearing operations in the affected barangays.
Seno hoped the displaced villagers can return home soon even as he assured them their basic needs would be taken care of.
Gennys Mangcunsay, a council member of Nangcaon, said many of the residents felt threatened by the presence of the armed group, which had grown larger since they were first spotted passing by the highland communities in the past days.
“We had to get away because we feel it is dangerous for us if they (armed group) are in our community,” Mangcunsay, who is also a tribal leader, said. Trucks of the local government fetched the fleeing families.
Rosendo Lucnoran, 60, a farmer from Zone 3 in Nangcaon, said he personally saw and talked to some of the gunmen, who identified themselves as “sundalo sa kabus” (army of the poor).
“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 and included women.
He said those he interacted with did not try to recruit him or his neighbors but were looking for persons on a list of names they had.
Senior Superintendent Roland Destura, Misamis Oriental police director, said they have already alerted municipal stations to be on alert.
Captain Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division, warned of possible fighting if the gunmen stay in the area longer.