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Davao City, Philippines

Making up to isolated IP village beyond the clouds

September 02, 2019 - Monday 4:09 AM by Jimmy Laking

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It seems that the outside world is finally making up to an isolated Ata-Manobo community discovered by government troops while in pursuit of the rebel New People’s Army (NPA) in the hinterlands of Davao del Norte.

For even as we sit here today, a chain of events has been unraveling to integrate and to improve the lot of this community of 110 families.

Nobody from government knew they existed. It was not until government troops stumbled into the community this February, 2019 that their presence was known.

It also became clear why they were isolated for so long, beyond the reach of government.

As First Lieutenant Amadeuz Vincent John Celestial of the 60th Infantry Battalion told the Davao Media Forum, they had no clue it was there. What they were aware of was that a sizeable NPA armed group has taken refuge in an area that sits along the tri-boundary of Davao del Norte, Bukidnon and Agusan.

Audrie Perez, IP regional focal person of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, said the area served as the NPA’s “eastern regional command” headquarters.

“It was their training and breeding ground,” he said, adding that it was here where the NPA trained and multiplied its members.

A look at the map showed that the area is actually closest to the province of Bukidnon and beyond the jurisdiction of the 60th IB. But after it sought and was granted permission to operate beyond its borders, the 60th IB trekked the mountains until finally it was within striking distance.

But when it finally decided to move in, the NPA members had long been gone. “It seemed they run out of supplies and had to look elsewhere,” said Lieutenant Celestial.

What the troops discovered instead is a community of Ata-Manobo subsisting mainly on root crops and without any access to government services.

Perez said it was the first time the village of Tapayanon was reached by government troops. He estimated the area to be some 30 kilometers to the nearest village connected by road in Davao del Norte’s Kapalong town.

Celestial said the condition of the villagers came as a surprise to the troops. “They could hardly speak Bisaya but fortunately for us we had soldiers who can communicate with them in their language,” he said.

The troops also discovered that the village practically had nothing to show of its link to outside world. “No electricity, no faucets, no health services, no TV,” he said, adding that villagers did not have hygiene. They also subsisted mainly on root crops.

Perez said the Army reached out to the DSWD, which in turn reached out to the provincial government, leading to the holding of a service caravan by the provincial government in July. Governor Edwin Jubahib has also ordered the opening up of a 20-kilometer road to connect the village to the nearest barangay.

The National Anti-Poverty Commission, under Secretary Noel K. Felongco, is also scheduled to hold a service caravan on September 30 to strengthen government assistance and intervention.

Perez said the DSWD is also set to build a school building to introduce basic education to the villagers and their children.