Lumads caught in crossfire welcome ceasefire

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 27 August) — The Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) of Bukidnon, many of them caught in the crossfire of the decades old conflict between the Philippine government (GPH) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) welcomed the indefinite ceasefire declared separately by the two parties and other positive developments announced Friday at the end of the five-day peace negotiations in Oslo, Norway.

Bukidnon Datu Richard Macas, mandatory representative of the IPS in the Bukidnon Provincial Board, said the agreement is a “welcome development” as it would help pave the way for economic development in their areas.

“As we all know, economic development is very difficult in the conflict areas,” he told MindaNews.

The GPH and the NDF have each declared a unilateral ceasefire that took effect at 12:01 a.m. on August 21 and will continue indefinitely as their ceasefire committees “reconcile and develop their separate unilateral ceasefire orders into a single unified bilateral agreement within 60 days” from August 26.

Bae Inatlawan Adelina Tarino, tribal chieftain of the Bukidnon Daraghuyan in Dalwangan, Malaybalay City said they look forward to lasting peace.

For several decades, the Bukidnon Daraghuyan, among the tribes living in the Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park, have been caught in the crossfire of nearly half a century armed conflict. cThe Bukidnons, Talaandigs and Higaonons of Bukidnon province claim the Mt. Kitanglad Range as their ancestral domain.

“We can finally go back fully to our farming. Tension in our territory has hampered our livelihood,” Tarino told MindaNews in Cebuano. She said fear of further hostilities kept them from attending to their livelihood.

The military bombed portions of the Bukidnon Daraghuyan territory in 2012 while in pursuit of the New People’s Army (NPA). Tarino and other tribal elders said the bombing violated their rights and destroyed their ancestral domain. The tribe demanded an apology from both parties to the conflict and required them to undergo a ritual to appease the spirit guardians of their territory.

Only the military attended the ritual, represented by then Col. Romeo Gapuz, commander of the 403rd Brigade. Gapuz, who was later promoted to general, vowed to respect the rights of the tribe and to observe free and prior informed consent (FPIC) in future operations, a pledge ignored by his successors.

Supporters of the tribe tried to reach representatives of the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF).

Tarino said that as residents in communities where the conflicts occur, the IPs have the right to be heard in the peace talks.

She appealed to both panels to include in formal talks the concerns aired by the IPs caught in the crossfire.

“They should discuss FPIC just so they all understand it and avoid future violations,” Tarino said.

Datu Macas said the panels should not only consider national and international parties to the talks. “Definitely, the IPs want to be included in the peace talks at the local level,” he said.

He added that talks should cover the community level “where IP communities are, where the hostilities between the military and the rebels happen.”

Ma. Easterluna Canoy, executive director of the Kitanglad Integrated NGOs, also welcomed the prospect of a long-term peace in the country.

“We should be able to reach the point where rebellion ends…as one party listens then we can promote peaceful dialogue and humility as an effective means to resolve societal divides,” she added.

Malaybalay Bishop Jose Cabantan said the agreement is “good news for the country and for us here.”
He appealed for lasting peace, one that is a “fruit of justice and love.”

“There is really no peace through violence in the battle of the guns, (only) through the negotiating table, through dialogue,” he added.

In 2014, Cabantan condemned, among others, the killing of Impasug-ong mayor Mario Okinlay. The NPA owned responsibility for the slaying.

Lawyer Burt Estrada, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines – Bukidnon chapter, also welcomed the agreement adding “social reforms are very much needed in order to have inclusive development that is felt by the masses.”

But he expressed that all concessions should be “within our democratic framework”.

Another lawyer, Apollo Maguale, expressing personal stand, said he hoped the panels will finish what they have started this time. He cited a similar experience during the Corazon Aquino administration, which was stunted with the suspension of the talks because of “too many demands” on one side.

“This only requires enough political will, open-mindedness and much patience in the interest of the Filipino people,” Maguale, provincial board secretary of Bukidnon and a former president of the Rotary Club of Malaybalay, said.

Dr. Lourdes G. dela Torre, peace educator and community education director of the Piniyalan Reporting Governance Project in Bukidnon said the Oslo agreement is a good start.

“It is important to agree on what to agree on the negotiating table,” she added.

But Bienvinido Narciso, civil society leader from Abag-Kalamboan, said President Rodrigo Duterte immediately facilitated the release of political detainees as part of the agreement.

“The NDF should also honor their words not to provoke the Philippine government by allowing further activities in the field that can ignite hostilities again,” he added. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews contributor)