Bishop Cabantan urges demilitarization in Upper Pulangi

MALAYBALAY CITY – (Bukidnon News Dispatch / February 10, 2012) Malaybalay Bishop Jose A. Cabantan has called for the demilitarization of city’s Upper Pulangi district as the Armed Forces of the Philippines increased its presence in the area after sightings of New People’s Army elements were reported since January 2011.


Cabantan told the 42nd Diocesan Pastoral Assembly of the Diocese of Malaybalay this week the presence of the NPA and the military in the area has become “a case of concern for the whole Diocese.”


He said the NPA and the military should leave the area and keep it as a “peace zone.”

He told Bukidnon News Thursday night he simply echoed the concern raised by Fr. Peter Walpole, SJ, who heads the Apu Palamguwan Education Center (APC) in Bendum, Busdi, one of the barangays in Upper Pulangi.


He said the classes in the IP school were stopped in January on reports of rebel sightings. The area should be peaceful for the children to continue going to school, he added.


The bishop said the APC has helped addressed the socio-cultural needs of the indigenous peoples in the area especially the children and the youth.


“It is sad to note that the serene atmosphere was disturbed by the presence of armed groups. First the presence of the New People’s Army and now the military,” he said in his letter to Col. Romeo Gapuz, chief of the 403rd Brigade on February 8. He said not only were the classes disrupted but also “the lives of the people were affected.”


“As a bishop in the diocese, I support all the queries of Fr. Walpole expressing their confusion about the extended presence of the military,” he said.


He cited the importance of the Upper Pulangi area, in Bukidnon’s boundary with Agusan del Sur, as the head water of the Pulanqi River, which is used for irrigation and other purposes downstream.


Cabantan noted that military allegedly introduced development programs including discussion on mining in the area.


“We have just suffered the wrath of Sendong and here we still continue to engage in this kind of venture?” he added.


He also questioned the efforts of the military in pursuing initiatives the civil government can and should do, referring to development work.


But the bishop clarified that they are only “seeking clarity and fair process because people are confused and fearful.”


“We are writing to your good office with good will praying and hoping that peace will reign in the community and the children can resume in their classes,” he added.


Capt. Eduardo Meclat, spokesperson of the 403rd Brigade told Bukidnon News Thursday the military has conducted “continuous monitoring” in the area and some development activities to help the community such as fora, free hair cut and other activities.


He said it is the barangay governments who helped them set up their detachment.

But Meclat admitted that the 8th Infantry Battalion has set up a base in Brgy. St. Peter composed of Cafgu or Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit, aside from the detachments of the Special CAFGU Active Auxiliary (SCAA) in Caburacanan and Zamboanguita.


The city government of Malaybalay has funded the SCAA.


Cabantan in an SMS to Bukidnon News Friday afternoon said Fr. Walpole has reported about the pull out of the military. He added that classes will be opened Monday. (Walter I. Balane/Bukidnon News)


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