DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/29 November) – An official of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in Region XI has dissuaded the Lumads or indigenous peoples in Paquibato District in Davao City from joining a paramilitary group to protect themselves against threats allegedly coming from the New People’s Army (NPA).
Jane Lopez-Banzon, community affairs officer of NCIP XI, on Wednesday said she told the Lumads that arming themselves is not part of their culture.
Banzon and representatives from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees went to Sitio Malingkong, Paquibato on Tuesday to visit 17 families who evacuated from Sitios 26 and Alon after receiving threats allegedly from NPA commander Leoncio Pitao aka Parago.
She said the Lumads wanted to become members of the paramilitary Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) to protect themselves from the revolutionary group.
She pointed out that the Lumads simply want to live peacefully, and it is hard on their part to decide whether they should arm themselves against the NPA.
Banzon said there are appropriate measures in addressing the security problem of the Lumads, adding it would be better for the government to continue the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Mayor Sara Duterte said in a text message that while becoming a Cafgu member is a personal decision “it is a good idea for the community to be trained to secure themselves.”
She added however that it is all up to the military being the organization that handles the Cafgu.
Councilor Karlo Bello, chair of the city council committee on civil, political and human rights, said in a phone interview that becoming a member of a paramilitary would make the Lumads part of the government forces. This, he noted, would make them targets of the NPA.
Lt. Col. Inocencio Pasaporte, commanding officer of the 69th Infantry Battalion, said in a text message that it was the Lumads themselves who asked to be trained as Cafgus to ward off the NPA from their community.
“I think they have spoken that they want to be secured in their communities and to have economic opportunities,” he added.
Asked whether the military will recruit the Lumads in Malikongkong into the Cafgu, he said it was up to the 10th Infantry Division.
“I guess the IPs in Paquibato have spoken that they do not want the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA-NDFP in their communities. It’s time for them to heed the sentiments and call of the IPs,” Pasaporte said.
Dulphing Ogan of Kalumaran said the intention of some Lumads to join the AFP is a usual reaction as they are divided.
He cited that there is a pending application for a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) and mining in the area. That is why there is a strong campaign against the NPA due to the armed group’s resistance to CADT and mining applications, he added.
He said there should be an independent investigation on the incidet.
Rev. Jurie Jaime, secretary general of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao, also called for an in-depth probe “to establish whether there is, indeed, a threat or none, or if this move to arm the lumads is not instigated by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines and the military-backed group called ‘Black Fighter’ and ‘Alamara’.”
“The AFP is clearly using the Lumads for their counterinsurgency program. They will be used by the military as baits and shields against the NPA. This move breeds more human rights violations in the coming days, we can foresee a chaotic Lumad community under the control of military commands,” he said.
He added that the AFP is “using this scenario to justify their presence and encampments in civilian communities, and to have more budgets and amaze logistical support from the people’s money through arming the Lumads.”
Berilo Mambo-o, the Lumad representative in the city council, said earlier that there was no real threat to the Lumads in Paquibato, adding that striking back at the NPA will not resolve the problem. (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)