BY GILBERT P. BAYORAN
In an unexpected twist of events, displaced residents, who have been fleeing from areas of gun battles in Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, appeared to have been temporarily restricted inside evacuation centers.
This was discovered yesterday by local journalists who were barred from entering the evacuation center in Brgy. 1 poblacion, Himamaylan City, as they attempted to interview displaced residents. Worse, they were also prohibited from taking pictures and video footage of evacuees by personnel inside the evacuation center, who closely guarded its entry and exit points.
Evacuees cannot roam around freely outside evacuation center, except for important matters, with the gate being partially locked and guarded.
Those going out are being required to log their names, since they are under the care and responsibility of the evacuation center, Provincial Social Welfare and Development Officer Merle Garcia told a local news website.
Mayor Raymund Tongson yesterday clarified that there is no “news blackout.” Such protocols being implemented was the decision of the different government agencies, Tongson explained.
With the ongoing scenario, we should understand that there is an ongoing military operations. Even us, we don’t know the complete protocols of the military. What we are doing right now is to resolve the collateral damage to our constituents that were affected, the mayor further explained.
Brig. Gen. Inocencio Pasaporte, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, however said there is no order on their end for the media to be barred from entering evacuation centers.
“The instruction did not emanate from us. Maybe it came from the evacuation center manager. Why should we prohibit it? It is okay for us that you will see it,” Pasaporte told journalists in a phone interview.
He also clarified that visiting evacuees is being allowed.
DSWD regional director Carmelo Nochete clarified that the order did not come from them, there is a manager of the evacuation center which is under the supervision of the concerned local government unit.
DSWD has no control in the management of evacuation centers, Nochete said.
Tongson also clarified DSWD reports that there are only about 3,500 residents of Brgys. Carabalan, Cabadiangan and Poblacion 3 that have evacuated from their homes and are staying at the 18 evacuation centers.
He explained that the more than 18,000 figure concerns affected residents, including those being extricated and still those in encounter site areas.
Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson, who along with DSWD Undersecretary Vilma Cabrera and Nochete, were briefed on the ongoing relief efforts before proceeding to evacuation centers, said they were assured of continuing support by DSWD Secretary Erwin Tulfo.
Visiting DWSD officials were also impressed by the response of the LGU in addressing the needs of affected Himamaylan City residents, Lacson added.
The provincial government of Negros Occidental, through its PSWDO, has dispatched 50 more sacks of rice and 40 boxes of canned goods for the evacuees, on top of help from the DSWD regional office and concerned LGU.
On top of services we are giving to evacuation centers, we also gave services directly to the affected areas, depending on the go signal given by the military, Tongson said.*