LANTAD, Balingasag, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/25 May) – The people in what used to be a “liberated” zone of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) has approved today the “Lantad Manifesto” asking both the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the umbrella organization of the armed communists, the National Democratic Front (NDF), to respect their right to self-determination and peace.
William Castillo, general manager of the Lantad Multi-purpose Cooperative (LMPC), said that they are demanding from both the GPH and the NDF to respect their decision to live in peace and free from tyranny because they do not want the violence that plagued their community in the past.
Castillo is the son of Leonardo Castillo who served as the “mayor” of the revolutionary government of Lantad from 1988 to 1992.
Sitio Lantad in Barangay Kibanban had been the hotbed of the communist insurgency in the 1980s and the 1990s. In 1987, a revolutionary government was set up by the National Democratic Front (NDF), making Lantad as the capital of the revolutionary movement in Northern Mindanao.
Government forces had driven out the NPA rebels into the fringes of Lantad, an idyllic and agriculturally rich community nestled in the Balatucan mountains in Misamis Oriental. It shares boundaries with Gingoog City and the towns of Claveria, Lagonglong and Medina.
Kibanban barangay captain Paquito Daao said that they have had enough of the armed conflict.
“Armed conflict is very ugly. Before, the rebels and the soldiers keep on killing each other. Relatives who find themselves in opposing armed groups kill each other,” Daao told MindaNews.
He said that NPA rebels are still operating in the peripheries of their barangay. “But they can enter Lantad if they are unarmed,” he added.
Last April 15, the Army and Cafgu (Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit) detachment in Lantad was attacked by armed men believed to be members of the NPA. The attack, according to Daao, injured three members of the Cafgu.
“The way we see, it was a statement that they are still present in the area. That’s why we are appealing to the NPA not to disturb Lantad anymore as we have decided to live peacefully,” said Castillo.
The Lantad Declaration, which will be presented before the joint Agusan del Norte and Misamis Oriental Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) meeting in Gingoog City on Thursday, cited the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), which was signed by the GPH and the NDF in Hague, Netherlands on March 16, 1998.
The declaration particularly cited Part III, Article 2 of the CARHRIHL which “seeks to confront, remedy and prevent the most serious human rights violations in terms of civil and political rights, as well as to uphold, protect and promote the full scope of human rights and fundamental freedoms….”
It further cited the first and second paragraphs of the CARHRIHL which read:
– “The right to self-determination of the Filipino nation by virtue of which the people should fully and freely determine their political status, pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and dispose of their natural wealth and resources for their own welfare and benefit towards genuine national independence, democracy, social justice and development.
– “The inherent and inalienable right of the people to establish a just, democratic and peaceful society, to adopt effective safeguards against, and to oppose oppression and tyranny similar to that of the past dictatorial regime.”
Romeo Lindahay aka Datu Sulugoon said that in citing these provisions, the community in Lantad in particular and the community of Higaonon lumads in the Mt. Balatucan territory is asserting that their politics and culture should be respected.
Daao added that they now want to be free from tyranny from either side of the armed conflict.
“Before, there were serious complaints of human rights violations against the military. On the other hand, Lantad became the center of the NPA’s Operation Zombie where hundreds were meted out death penalty because they were suspected as deep penetration agents,” Daao said.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) later admitted that Operation Zombie was one of its serious errors.
Daao said that their struggle is now different. “It’s now about economics, how we can free ourselves from poverty,” he said.
The younger Castillo said that he longs badly to stop the vicious cycle of violence in his community. His father, he noted, was killed by his former comrades on April 11, 1999.
Lantad now has an elementary school utilizing electricity from solar energy, courtesy of kindhearted donors. A total of 128 of the 200 households in Lantad also have solar panels for their basic energy needs.
Lindahay said that the Higaonon Tribal Council in Mt. Balatucan, which straddles three barangays in Balingasag, five in Medina, two in Lagonglong and three in Gingoog City covering a total of 57,000 hectares, wants government to award them their Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT). (BenCyrus G. Ellorin / MindaNews)