Too small for her age, the roughly three-year old Angeline Popwan finally succumbed to her sickness after she was admitted to the hospital the third time.
“The doctors would not really say what was wrong wither her except that it was impossible to cure her,” said Anabel Tuyor, chairperson of the Lumad organization Pigyayungaan, which was helping the evacuees from Cabanglasan, Bukidnon at the Capitol Grounds of the same province.
In late June, the Higaonon evacuees added to the Tigwahanon displaced families who have been at the grounds since May. Both communities had sought refuge at the grounds from paramilitary elements – the New Indigenous Peoples’ Army for Reform in San Fernando, Bukidnon, and the Alamara in Cabanglasan.
Angeline was among the hundreds of children suffering the dire conditions at the camp-out. Three other children remain at the hospital as of Angeline’s death. Marilou Balanban, only one year old, Jane Daoit, around Angeline’s age, and Poy Balanban, who is ten years old. Although the latter two were reported to have relatively recovered, they suffered similar symptoms of diarrhea and high fever. Angeline had it worst as she had been excreting blood in her final days.
“The children suffer from lack of nutrition in the camp,” said Tuyor, who also speaks on behalf of the Cabanglasan evacuees. Tuyor herself had to leave her community two years ago because of similar threats from the paramilitary group. “Although they would run around and get dirty back home, they are not exposed to the pollution here in the city. They were relatively well-fed from what their families grow in their farms and gather from the forest. Here, they are lucky if they could regularly.”
Food at the evacuation camp was not consistent. On top of this, the kinds of food that they get are not the staple crops they usually consume, adding to cases of indigestions and diarrhea.
“But at the bottom line of this situation is not their lack of food but their continuing security problem,” said Datu Jomorito Goaynon, chairperson of Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization of which Pigyayungaan is a member. “It is angering to think that they are preferring to starve in this camp-out, where they continue to plead for action from the government, than to go home and risk getting massacred.”
The Alamara, in their community headed by Sammy Diwangan, have been known to kill anyone who would go against their intentions. The killings of the group go far back to 2015 when they killed Jil Ahing in Sitio Saluringan, Cabanglasan, Bukidnon.
Despite the real threat on the lives of the Lumads in the hinter communities of Bukidnon, the local government has not taken heed in their call for protection and justice. In fact, the government had not done any action when one of the evacuees was sexually assaulted in July, and another pregnant woman was hit by a motorcycle in the same month.
The evacuees, although tired of their conditions and longing for their ancestral lands, have maintained that they will not – could not – go home until their demands for government action against the paramilitary groups are heeded.
The displaced families are joining the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya (National Minorities’ Journey) to Manila to bring into the national center the issue of continued militarization and displacement of Lumad communities in Mindanao. The Lakbayan will commence on August 21, 2017.