NPA says military waging “provocative” acts to “sabotage” peace talks; military says “not true”

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 Nov) – The New People’s Army (NPA) has accused the military of carrying out “provocative and combat actions to sabotage” the peace talks between government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) but the military denied the allegations claiming it has been “peaceful” since both government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) each declared an indefinite unilateral ceasefire in August.

In an e-mailed statement Friday, Ariel Montero, spokesperson of the Regional Operational Command of New People’s Army-Northeastern Mindanao Region said soldiers continue to encamp, go in and out of villages in the guise of implementing its peace and development outreach program (PDOP), allegedly providing security for the PAMANA projects and implementing the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign. 

He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) “has carried out provocative and combat actions to sabotage the ongoing peace talks” which has had two formal rounds since August.

Montero alleged that soldiers have continued to conduct Community Organizing for Peace and Development/Civil Military Operation (COPD/CMO) in no less than 70 villages in Northeastern Mindanao Region and that they have been establishing CAFGU detachments in barrios in the towns of San Miguel, Carmen, Cantilan and Cagwait in Surigao del Sur.

Montero said the COPD troops composed of the 29th Infantry Battalion (IB), 36th IB, 30th IB and 75th IB troops have been deployed in the villages of Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Norte, and 3rd Special Force Battalion and 26th IB troops have been deployed in not less than 16 villages in the cities of Bayugan  and Esperanza, Agusan del Sur.  

He added that soldiers in the villages “encamp in barangay facilities such as the gym, barangay hall, daycare center and others, including civilian homes” and are allegedly “using civilians as shields.”

“They carry out psywar operations and enforce searches to sow fear and prevent the people from conducting activities to promote their interests and livelihood. They conduct intelligence operations against the people in the barrios especially those they believe to be sympathizers of the revolutionary movement and relatives of NPA members. The AFP conduct census, house searches and community assemblies. They seek out, threaten and coerce leaders and members of progressive mass organizations to quit,” Montero said.

He noted that the military also uses operation “TokHang” (knock and appeal)  not against those they believe to be involved in illegal drugs, but also “against known members of progressive mass organizations to compel them to quit.”

“Curfews have been imposed and limited time for farm work enforced by the military. On the other hand, it is alarming to note that in the midst of military presence under COPD, illegal drugs, gambling, robbery, immorality, pornography and other anti-social activities thrive. The unity and peaceful existence of the people is being destroyed,” Montero said.

According to Montero, in the village of Tubo-tubo, Cagwait, Surigao del Sur, the peaceful and collective way of life of the Lumad (Indigenous Peoples) and settlers is being destroyed by the military through COPD and the establishment of detachments.

He claimed the AFP and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) have been inciting and riling the Lumad, led by the brothers Larry and Lolong Tanola, active assets of the AFP and appointed Datu of the NCIP, to claim and seize “ancestral lands” made productive by settlers for several decades.

Montero said the alleged land grabbing is intended to clear the way for the entry of coal mining operations, such as that of Abacus Consolidated Resources & Holdings Inc.

He said two settler farmers have been killed, the latest on November 7 identified as Berto Catalan, 54.

“The provocative actions and deceitful schemes of the AFP are clear violations of the affirmed agreements between the GRP and the NDFP under the continuing peace talks, particularly CAHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Laws),” Montero said, adding these demonstrate the military’ “insincerity in carrying out its declared ceasefire.”

He said the NPA in Northeastern Mindanao Region is “always at a ready to defend the people and their human rights and secure their lives and livelihood,” and called on government to deliver social services and improvement in the villages, not the soldiers.

“In connection with this, we challenge the Duterte government to ensure that the AFP abides by the declared ceasefire of the GRP and pull-out military troops from civilian communities. As such, the peace talks will advance and steps to resolve the root causes of civil war in the Philippines will continue,” Montero said.

No encounters

But Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army said that its area of operation covering Northern Mindanao and Caraga regions remain peaceful since the declaration of the unilateral ceasefire on 21 August 2016.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire on July 25 during his 1st State of the Nation Address but suspended it less than a week later following the killing of a CAFGU member and the wounding of three others in the Davao region. The suspension was lifted on August 21. The NDF on the other hand reciprocated with its own unilateral ceasefire and both parties agreed they would work on a bilateral ceasefire within 60 days from the end of the first round of formal talks in Oslo in late August.

The parties had missed its October deadline and are still working on the proposed bilateral ceasefire before December 10, International Human Rights Day.

“Since the declaration by our Commander-in-Chief, President Rodrigo Duterte, there were no incidents of armed encounters between the 4ID line units and the New People’s Army in our area of responsibility. This is because of our strict adherence to the provisions underlined in the said declaration. Our troops are now focused on community development activities in tandem with the stakeholders and on supporting the PNP in law enforcement operations,” he said.

Martinez said that since the ceasefire declaration, the 4ID has focused its efforts on “securing all vital installations as part of the Bayanihan Investment Protection and Security Operations (BIPSO), support to law enforcement operations of the Philippine National Police (PNP), particularly on anti-illegal drug operations, and supporting the Bayanihan programs or the whole-of-nation initiatives that are jointly undertaken by all stakeholders to help the people and the communities.”

“The division’s support to anti-illegal drug operations led to the successful confiscation of marijuana and shabu worth PhP 29 million in the two regions. Moreover, a total of eight drug personalities were arrested and apprehended; and thousands of drug users have surrendered during the joint conduct of operation “TokHang.”

Martinez added that in line with the division’s participation to the government’s Whole-of-Nation initiatives or the Bayanihan programs, a total of 119 barangays in two regions are now “conflict manageable” and are ready for further development, and 23 more are currently undergoing evaluation and validation.

He said these Bayanihan activities are all LGU-led and are aimed to harmonize the stakeholder’s effort to help improve the people’s livelihood condition particularly in areas previously affected by armed-conflicts.

He said that in accordance with the ceasefire, a Memorandum of Understanding or Memorandum of Agreement have been ensured by all stakeholders involved for the conduct of these Bayanihan activities in regions 10 & 13 “to have a clear guidance on what specific role should they contribute for the success of the peace and development programs.”

Since the ceasefire declaration, Martinez said, a total of 46 former NPA members have are now participating in all Bayanihan efforts. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)