Lumads, civil society call on gov't to resume peace talks with NDF

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 October)- Indigenous peoples and civil society groups today called on the Aquino administration to resume the peace talks with the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF) to stop the further displacement of communities affected by hostilities between the rebels and government forces.

“We are calling on the national government to resume the peace talks as soon as possible,” said Sr. Arnold Ma. Noel, co-convenor of the group Sulong Carhrihl, a network of peace advocates and groups promoting the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Human Rights Law (Carhrihl).

“We ask both panels to return to the negotiating table because people on the ground continue to suffer,” she said.

Beatriz Colmo, coordinator of the Coalition of Mindanao Indigenous Peoples for Peace Advocacy (Comippa), said that the recent fighting between government troops and New People’s Army guerrillas at the boundary of Calinan and Baguio districts in this city alone has displaced 75 lumad families, or some 600 individuals.

“We always get news of the fighting but there was never mention of people who were affected,” Colmo said during Monday’s Kapehan sa SM.

“Since Carhrihl is no longer respected, human rights are no longer respected and it’s the indigenous peoples who continue to suffer because all the fighting happens in the hinterlands where they live,” she said.

Colmo said people in Carmen have fled their homes and evacuated to the nearby villages of Sikaw, part of Purok 8 of barangay Tamayong in Calinan. Others who did not go to Sikaw, fled to Purok 4 and Purok 6, also in Tamayong barangay.

“They did not set up tents, that’s why, no one can see them. They fled their homes and went to stay with their relatives but their lives were severely affected,” she said

Peace has been part of the way of life of indigenous peoples, she said, adding, “we don’t want to be disturbed in the place where we live but all armed confrontation occur in the hinterlands.”

Sulong Cahhrril will hold on Tuesday an IP media consultation in Villa Margarita.

Carhrihl is an agreement aimed to protect the rights of civilians or non-combatants and was signed between the government and the NDF on March 16, 1998.

But after the Ramos administration, the peace negotiation with the NDF has been on a standstill especially after the US listed the NDF, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, as a “terrorist organization.”

Noel said there has been disregard for Carhrihl by both sides after the breakdown of talks.

“We hope that peace talks will come under the new administration,” she said, referring to the NDF’s refusal to negotiate with the previous administration.”We hope that now that we have a new administration it will open up new avenues for the resumption of talks.”

She also said she heard that the government has re-constituted its panel of negotiators and that this will be revealed soon.

Noel said her group is also pushing for the involvement of more stakeholders in the peace talks to include the lumads who are already allotted a slot in the government panel in talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“Both parties should listen to civil society groups because civilians are also affected,” she said.

Colmo said they formed Commipa because no one seemed to care about the increasing number of IP leaders who became victims of extrajudicial killings.

She said they formed the group to stop the abuses against indigenous peoples, regardless of who committed the violations, be they government soldiers, NPAs, loggers or miners. (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)