KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/16 Nov) — The “peace zones” formed in former battle zones, according to North Cotabato Gov. Manny Piñol, are an “anomaly,” and he is thus urging that referendums be held in these places to find out if residents are supporting or rejecting it.
Piñol’s tirades came after the latest attack orchestrated by the New People’s Army when the rebels raided a military detachment and disarmed 10 members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), including their detachment commander, last Nov. 2 in Barangay Bituan, one of the five “zones of peace” in Tulunan town in North Cotabato. The NPA carted away 19 Garand rifles, three M-14 rifles, and one M-16 Armalite.
“The creation of the peace zones was an anomaly. Where on earth can you find an area that can’t be penetrated by law enforcers even if the operations are legitimate?” said Piñol.
Piñol accused the NPA of repeatedly violating the agreement declaring peace zones.
The governor also recounted the land mine attack launched by the rebels against an Army’s medical and dental team off to conduct free medical mission in a peace zone in Barangay Bacung that killed four soldiers and wounded seven others last December.
He stressed there were many undocumented attacks the NPA staged in those areas, which he pointed out were not condemned by left-leaning human rights groups.
“While I believe the intentions of the framers of the peace zones were noble, but the areas have become haven of the communist guerillas,” he said in a radio interview.
Max Casulukan, chairman of Barangay Bituan, has expressed opposition to Piñol’s idea. “Why blame the civilians if the NPA rebels raided the detachment? What we’re after here in zones of peace is the peace that we’ve been looking for. We don’t want both armed groups here,” he said.
The local church has also raised doubts as to the proposal.
Fr. Peter Geremiah, coordinator of the Tribal Filipino Program of the Diocese of Kidapawan, said that “it is not fair to question the whole concept of the peace zone in a rush and definitely, in a politically-backed proposal.”
“Peace zones in Tulunan were declared through peoples’ initiative as locus where the roots of conflict are to be addressed,” he stressed.
Fr. Geremiah claimed to be one of the advisers of the local church that laid the framework of the peace zone.
“The process went through a series of consultations with the affected communities in Tulunan since the early 1990s,” he said.
The idea to put up peace zone started in 1991 when government soldiers positioned along the Tulunan national highway held a truckload of rice, which were to be distributed to poor farmers in Barangay Bacung, one of the villages heavily affected by armed fighting in Tulunan.
“The Church condemned the act and from then on, and the people clamored that their areas be declared zones of peace,” recounted the priest.
The first peace zone was established in Barangay Nabundasan in the latter part of 1991.
Among the framers of the peace zone were then Kidapawan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos; Fr. Ronilo Villamor, former parish priest of the San Isidro Labrador in Tulunan; local leaders from barangays Banayal, Bituan, New Alimodian, Nabundasan, and Tuburan; former North Cotabato Rep. Greg Andolana; and former Senator Rodolfo Biazon.
“If government leaders agree to hold a referendum in Tulunan as regards the peace zone, they should again go back to what was done two decades ago. They should again ask the people of their sentiments. It must undergo a thorough review,” he said.