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Birdguide Shot by Philippine Army

…while Guiding UK, Danish & Australian Birders

Birdguide Shot by Philippine Army

…while Guiding UK, Danish & Australian Birders

On 14th February 2015 the Telegraph ran a story about a terrifying incident experienced by birders on Mindanao while searching for Philippine Eagle on the slopes above the city of Malaybalay. The story contains several inaccuracies corrected today for me by two of those caught up in the incident, Paul & Jill Rendell of Weymouth Dorset. I happen to have made travel arrangements for them before which is why they rang me to express concern that the dangers of the site are being underplayed and that birders were still visiting although more responsible tour companies have taken the area out of their itineraries for the time being.

The telegraph report;

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/philippines/11413212/British-birdwatchers-caught-up-in-Philippines-gun-battle.html is based upon the ‘official’ story reports that the group were caught up in the crossfire when a unit of the Philippine Special Forces Battalion was taking action against a communist rebel group the New People’s Army. The birders firmly believe that only the army was involved and probably mistook them for rebels despite the fact that their entry to the park was by previously arranged permit. The local guide was seriously injured by the first shot fired that hit him in the upper left arm (not the right one as the telegraph reported, perhaps evidence of the paper’s rightwing leanings). The bullet broke the bone and he was bleeding profusely when the Rendells applied a tourniquet. The whole group dived for cover as the army continued for some time to fire on their position. This lasted for sometime until the group ran for it when told to do so by the injured guide. Despite his shout for them to run and repeatedly shouting ‘Americanos’ to alert the soldiers that they were not rebels the army opened up a second time.

Despite being in their mid sixties Paul and Jill ran for half a kilometre before stopping to catch their breath.

They told me: “We left Del Monte Lodge after breakfast at about 6am and set off to walk up to the Philippine Eagle watchpoint. As we had spent all day on the lower watchpoint the previous day our local guide Carlito Gayramara decided that we should go to the alternative watchpoint. We had been walking for just over two hours when a shot rang out and our guide, Carlito was shot in the left arm. He immediately turned shouting "run, run” to us and “Americano, Americano" at the top of his voice to those shooting. He repeated this a few times. After the first shot which hit Carlito all hell broke lose and we could hear machine gun fire, rifle fire and mortars exploding. We were with three Danish and one Australian birdwatchers and also had an English guide with us. We didn’t ‘dive for cover’ but all ran down the hill with the bullets following us, the gun fire lasted at least half an hour. As soon as there was some cover a tourniquet was put on the guides arm and after running further on we tightened it again.

They went on to say: “They must have know that we were not the NPA as a few times we had to run across open fields and must have been visible to the Army.

Somehow the Australian member of the party got separated and did not return to the lodge for some hours. He said on the Birding-Aus mailing list “…in Mindanao we encountered a problem in a supposedly safe area in the north of the island, on Mt Kitanglad. It appears that the army mistook our party for a group of NPA guerrillas that they were pursuing through the mountain forest.

He went on to add: “Our party was comprised of 3 Danish birders, 2 British and a British guide, myself plus our local guide and one of his sons. The local guide Carlito was severely wounded when he was shot in the left arm , not right arm as it states in the article, he has undergone surgery in nearby Cagayan de Oro, and is now recovering. He will need ongoing surgery for a shattered arm, and the army is taking care of his needs. Carlito is a well known bird guide in the area and runs the lodge on Mt Kitanglad, the only accommodation in the area. We were there to see Philippine eagle, this was our second day in that particular site, very near the eagle viewing location. It is a shame that Carlito has, at least for the moment, lost his livelihood and good health, and birders who have seen him finding and identifying birds on Mt Kitanglad will be very concerned about his situation. The immediate future of birding on the mountain is probably doubtful as well.

Paul & Jill added: “The firing did not stop until we put Carlito on a horse and he went the rest of the way down the mountain on horseback. We had been running for about half an hour by this time. After the firing stopped we continued at a fast walk back to the Lodge and waited for the Australian to arrive. It was several hours later that we heard that he had been found and would be back with us shortly.

The Army should have know that we were there as we had been issued with permits. The Army have put Carlito into the best hospital in Cagayan de Oro and are paying for all his treatment; they have also said that they will compensate him. Carlito arms was broken by the bullet that hit him, but we understand that he is recovering.

The trip was arranged by Birding2Asia’s Stijn De Win who questions the issue of safety. He told the Rendells: “Kitanglad was deemed totally safe and had been without incident for the last 20 years. I did not get noticed of any issues neither did Pete. I would never have sent you there if I had knew it was not completely safe. I’m not completely sure Carlito and family or National Park officials knew about any safety issues. Please be advised 2 birding groups have already visited del Monte/Kitanglad after your stay. I call this completely irresponsible.

With tensions running very high in the Philippines since police and army were lured into a trap set by extreme Islamists in which many lost their lives, anyone contemplating a birding trip to the Philippines in general and Mindanao in particular should make sure they are well acquainted with the local situation!

Fatbirder

25th February 2015