EVACUEES. Negros Occidental Gov. Eugenio Lacson meets with evacuees (in this undated photo) who are staying at temporary shelters following a series of clashes between government troops and the New People's Army. The Diocese of Dumaguete is mobilizing relief efforts to send aid to the thousands who have been displaced by the internal conflict. (Photo courtesy of Negros Occidental Capitol PIO Facebook)

DUMAGUETE CITY – Bishop Julito Cortes of the Diocese of Dumaguete has appealed the public for prayers and assistance for the thousands of evacuees who fled their homes in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental starting last week due to skirmishes between government troops and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

“While we thank God for the relative peace in Negros Oriental, we cannot turn a deaf ear to the plight of our brothers and sisters in the neighboring province of Negros Occidental,” said Cortes in a statement issued Sunday (Rome time) while on current pilgrimage in Assisi in Italy.

The Social Action Ministry of the diocese, headed by Fr. Junifer Toreno, is leading the efforts to gather assistance in cash and in-kind for residents of Barangay Carabalan in Himamaylan.

“Now housed in evacuation centers, these brothers and sisters of ours need food, water, hygiene, and sleeping kits,” Cortes said.

The prelate added that “government and church organizations can only do so much”.

Cortes’ call for the mobilization of relief efforts is in solidarity with the Diocese of Kabankalan whose jurisdiction includes Himamaylan.

Media reports said the series of encounters since last week in Himamaylan resulted in the temporary suspension of classes as scores of residents fled their homes to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

As of Sunday, some of the internally displaced residents have started returning home as Army troops continue with clearing operations.

Romeo Nanta alias Ka Juanito Magbanua, whom the military tagged as the commander of the Regional Operational Command of the Komiteng Rehiyon-Negros and spokesperson of the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command, was killed last Oct. 10 during an encounter between the 94th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and the NPA.

At least six clashes were reported between government troops and the NPA rebels since Oct. 6. (PNA)