Surigao governor finds her peacemaker

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/29 November) — After weeks of sending feelers to individuals who could possibly offer a link to the New People’s Army rebels so she can talk to them about “what their problems really are,” Surigao del Norte Gov. Sol F. Matugas finally found an answer to her prayers.

“Thank God, here’s the person I’ve been looking for,” the governor exclaimed in mixed English and Cebuano as she touched the shoulder of local peacemaker Josefina Bajade, security and intelligence section chief of the local government of Agusan del Sur, and a stakeholder of the Caraga Council for Peace and Development.

Matugas met Bajade during the press conference at the opening of the Mindanao Week of Peace in Caraga in Surigao City last week.

The governor said she had always looked for somebody like Bajade, especially after the New People’s Army attacked three mining firms in Claver town last month.

Matugas said that while they were still negotiating for the release of five top executives of the mining firms the military had suggested launching airstrikes against the rebels.

But the governor, speaking through a radio station, disapproved of the airstrikes and asked instead the NPA to sit down and talk with her.

“I think it’s better to listen to them so that we will what their complaints are,” she said.

For her part, Bajade was reportedly instrumental in the release of Lingig town mayor Henry Dano last month.

In a separate interview, she said she has a “direct line” with NPA leader Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos because of an old bond that dates back during her years as a student in Surigao City.

Madlos was born in Dapa, Siargao Islands in Surigao del Norte.

Matugas herself admitted in the same event that she and Madlos are cousins but that she has avoided calling him cousin in deference to their “political differences.”

CCPD chairperson Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos told the governor she can request for Bajade’s services by writing to the local government unit the latter works for.

Asked later by reporters if it would be possible for her to choose a Surigaonon instead to act as peacemaker, Matugas said she trusts Bajade’s credentials because of her professional training in negotiations.

Bajade said she had trained in Germany in handling negotiations with rebels. “We were trained including Fr. (Carlito) Clase here who is my partner in the various negotiations we already undertook.”

Clase, the executive director of the CCPD, said their group has mediated in a number of conflicts, including the controversial case of the bungled P72 million in royalties for Mamanwas in Taganito, Surigao del Norte from a mining firm.

Bajade and Clase also figured in the negotiations for the release of a police officer who was held captive by the NPA in Davao. (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)