For the past 10 days or so, the Lianga municipal gymnasium (photographed above in more happier times) also more officially known as the Prospero B. Pichay Sr. Sports and Cultural Center ( in memory of the father of Surigao del Sur's erstwhile 1st district congressional representative and defeated senatorial candidate, Prospero "Butch" Pichay Jr.) has been the temporary home of more than 40 families from Purok 5 of Barangay San Isidro in the hinterlands of Lianga. These evacuees (shown in the pictures below with municipal Vice-Mayor Jun Lala), numbering more than a hundred individuals, mostly women and children, are fleeing what they say are intensified military operations being conducted in their community by elements of the Philippine Army's 58th Infantry Battalion and the Task Force Gantaugan against insurgent guerrilla forces belonging to the communist New People's Army.
Spokesmen for the evacuees have accused government forces of violating an agreement supposedly forged between local military forces and residents of the purok in February of this year which prohibited soldiers on operational maneuvers from camping or living within the immediate vicinity of the residences of the local people. The presence of government troops near their homes and dwellings, the evacuees say, has placed them in danger of being caught in the crossfire in the event of an NPA attack on military positions within their village. Thus, they have been forced to flee their homes in fear for their personal safety and those of their families.
The military, on the other hand, explains the ongoing operations in San Isidro as past of it's on-going pacification and clearing operations in the remote mountain villages and forested areas of the province. The area in question, is considered a rebel "hot zone" and sporadic encounters between rebel forces and government troops have already occurred in the past weeks.
As the Lianga municipal government struggles to handle, once more, the fallout from what appears to be another resurgence in the intensity of military's operations against the NPA within the municipal boundaries, it becomes food for lively speculation among many local observers here that, once again, the on-going military offensive has been precisely taking place in an area rumored to be exceptionally rich in exploitable mineral resources. There is talk again of business interests allied with local political kingpins who are eager to come in and make money in the wake of the Philippine government's opening of many areas in the Caraga region to mineral exploration and mining operations, hence the need for the armed forces to step in and clear these areas from existing threats to such potentially large business investments.
What is not speculation is the fact that in the struggle for control of these mineral and timber rich areas, it is always the common folk and the ordinary people in the remote mountain villages who end up being used and abused by those on opposite sides of the on-going conflict who are all equally anxious to hitch a ride on the "get rich quick" bandwagon for control of access to this province's precious mineral resources. In the mad scramble for who gets first crack at prospective gold, coal, chromite or nickel deposits and timber forests, the opportunities for peaceful dialogue and avenues for mutual cooperation between what may not necessarily be conflicting interests often get trampled and left behind in the dust.
The people of Lianga have been through the tragic aftermath of situations of this nature so many times in the past that they have become somewhat inured to the scenes, stories and scenarios of the human tragedies brought about by the hostilities happening literally in their backyards . And long experience tells them that if further military operations are in the works (and they are bound to be imminent in view of the exceptionally strong NPA presence in the conflict area) then the security situation is bound to quickly get worse for their counterparts in San Isidro and its neighboring communities and with no sign or hope for any prospect of any cessation of hostilities between government forces and rebel combatants any time soon.