NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – Bringing aid to mountain folk trapped in their villages as government troops and the New People’s Army enter the fourth day of clashes is a challenge, Himamaylan City Mayor Raymond Tongson told Rappler on Saturday evening, October 8.
Tongson, in a phone interview, said that they could not cover everyone on the ground as they are following protocols of the Philippine Army to ensure everyone’s safety.
“There’s no specific protocol. It’s a case to case,” he said, saying that barangay officials are ready on the ground to consolidate help and assistance for the community.
But it has been slow as movement is limited, especially to and within hot zones comprising several villages.
“We could not enter because we’re following the protocol,” he pointed out.
Rappler interviewed Tongson a few hours after the 94th Infantry Battalion, the unit that clashed with rebels on Thursday, October 6, reported the deaths of two soldiers and wounding of six others in Sitio Cunalom, Brgy Carabalan.
The mayor offered his sympathies and pledged that the city’s agencies would work to uphold peace.
On Sunday, October 9, the 94IB on its Facebook page said it would continue pursuit operations against the NPA unit, estimated to number 20 to 40 guerrillas.
“Exchanges of gunfire in Barangay Carabalan have put the lives of the residents in great danger, disrupted their livelihood, and disturbed the peaceful existence of their constituents and their families, forcing them to leave their houses and means of livelihood and seek temporary shelter in various evacuation centers,” the mayor said in a statement, released also on Sunday.
There is a point person on the ground who will receive the relief assistance and will distribute it to residents in a specific area, but these are not permanent as “all are moving due to the hot pursuit operation of the Army,” he told Rappler.
The City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD) on Saturday said they had received a flood of calls and text messages begging for rescue and food aid, asking for understanding due to curtailed mobility.
“Because of security reasons, city employees are not allowed to go to Barangay Carabalan,” the office said on its Facebook page.
“It has been decided that barangay security teams, the Philippine National Police-Himamaylan, the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (CDRRM) responders and the Philippine Army will handle the delivery of food and non-food items to affected families.”
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Region 6 field unit on Friday said the AFP had “advised that affected families should stay at their respective houses until they can make a clearance to transfer them to the nearest evacuation center.”
Most villagers in two villages that experienced fighting on October 6 voluntarily left their homes. But Tongson said there are other affected communities.
The mayor confirmed the CSWD report that more than several centers house more than 2,500 evacuees as of Saturday, but said they “come and go” to check on farms.
The number of evacuees represents almost a fifth of Carabalan’s 13,000 population, which is around 11 percent of the city’s population in 2020.
The sprawling barangay sits 376.6 feet up from Negros Occidental’s central cove that gives Himamaylan, 75 kilometers south of Bacolod City, a strategic location. Carabalan shares a border with five Himamaylan villages, Bi-ao in neighboring Binalbagan town, and two villages in Tayasan town in Negros Oriental.
“Because of the untold hardships — physically, emotionally, psychologically — experienced by our people, I hereby express my condemnation of the ongoing atrocities in Barangay Carabalan,” Tongson said.