Malaybalay mayor open to local peace talks with NPA

“It has remained an option. We can’t say we give up on talking peace,” Flores told MindaNews at the sidelines of a forum here Friday of the Philippine Judicial Academy.

 “If this will go on, they will suffer socially and economically,” he said, citing effects brought about by displacement of civilians affected by the clashes between government forces and the rebels.

The City Social Welfare and Development Office  has reported that as of April 2, 46 families or 207 persons had fled their homes when the NPA attacked the Zamboanguit Cafgu patrol base.

Col. Cresente Maligmat, chief of the 29th infantry battalion, said on April 1 that hot pursuit operations were ongoing but added residents could go home on April 2. 

In 2006, when suspected NPA rebels torched heavy equipment parked in the same barangay, it sparked weeks of  clashes, causing thousands of residents to flee for safety in nearby barangays.

Flores said the local government cannot just be passive in such a situation. He claimed the city government has been active through the  provision of social services to residents. 

But Flores expressed some apprehension in pushing too hard on peace talks with the rebel group who, he said, has locked itself in a “very different ideology”.

He said he could not understand the supposed pro-poor stance of the group over atrocities experienced by the poor in the countryside.

He said that while he has remained open to talk peace at the local level, he has a problem of not knowing who to talk to as their commanders change post often.

The localized peace talk could also bring only temporary peace, he said.

But Flores dismissed the possibility that the city government’s decision to bankroll a 60-member paramilitary force to be posted in the city’s Upper Pulangui district and in another area has become a problem.  The paramilitary post in the area was dispatched to serve as a “blocking force” against the NPA.  

He said the Cafgu post has become a deterrent to the movement of the rebel group.

The local government was left with no choice but to put up a mechanism to help protect residents in Upper Pulangui. “The people are afraid,” he said.

He noted the January 21 attack of Malaybalay’s city jail by suspected NPAs as a “show of force” meant at posing they are threat to reckon with.

But he stressed local officials would not turn its back to peace talks.

“Who doesn’t want peace? Everybody wants peace,” he said.

Formal negotiations between the national government and the CPP-NDF-NPA were canceled by the latter in August 2004. The NDF asked government to get the United States and the European Union to stike off  the NPA from these groups’ the list of FTOs (foreign terrorist organizations).

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has since set a 2010 target to end the 40 year-old rebellion.  (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)