Villagers restive as truce ends in Agusan Norte, Surigao Norte

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/01 August) – Villagers expressed fears a resurgence in armed hostilities between government forces and the New People’s Army (NPA) with the end of the five-day ceasefire in Surigao del Norte and portions of Agusan del Norte today.

The truce came as a precondition for the release Tuesday of four policemen who were held captive by the NPA since July 10.

PO3 Vic Calubag Concon, PO1 Rey O’niel Morales, PO1 Joen Zabala and PO1 Edito Roquino, all of Alegria, Surigao del Norte were seized by a blocking force of the NPA during the raid on the town’s police station on July 10.

The NPA declared a ceasefire for the towns of Claver, Gigaquit, Bacuag, Placer, Tubod and Alegria of Surigao del Norte and Kitcharao, Jabonga and Santiago of Agusan del Norte from noon of July 27 until 12:00 noon of August 1.

The government responded by ordering a suspension of military and police operations for the same areas and period of time.

Datu Lando “Maribuhok” Anlagan, a Mamamwa chieftain in Zapanta Valley in Barangay Bangayan, Kitcharao said the end of the ceasefire means clashes would again erupt between government and rebel forces.

He said his fellow Lumads are fearful this would force them to evacuate again, adding they had been the constant victims of the conflict.

He recalled the skirmishes on 27 May 2011 which forced at least 150 of them, mostly women and children, to flee to Surigao City. The following year, they evacuated to Butuan City for the same reason.

“If there is no peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) these incidents would occur time and time again,” he said.

Anlagan said the farmers are afraid of being caught in a crossfire.

Meanwhile, a rebel who identified himself as Ka Kared told MindaNews on Tuesday that they had already prepared for a defensive stance after the ceasefire.

He said the NPA would not hesitate to defend its forces and mass supporters.

NDFP-Mindanao spokesperson Jorge Madlos earlier said that after the release of their captives “all NPA units must move to a more secure location to prepare themselves and the masses in the area against another wave of brutal attacks by enemy forces.”

“We must sustain our revolutionary daringness and will to fight to frustrate the fascist military offensives of the enemy,” he said.

1st Lt. Magno Ausente, spokesperson of the 30th Infantry Battalion yesterday said skirmishes would only happen if there is rebel presence in a certain area.

Bishop Rhee Timbang of the Philippine Independent Church-Diocese of Surigao, who headed the third party facilitators said Friday the possibility of intensive military operations could result to more deaths and human rights violations, and “compromise basic social services of our people as government resources are used to finance the continuous waging of war”.

“The TPF calls upon the contending parties – the GRP and NDFP – to return to the negotiating table and resume their peace talks, giving all the hope to the Filipino People for a principled, just and negotiated resolution of the armed conflict and the basic social problems that created the situation. Resume the peace talks, end the armed conflict, resolve the basic problems affecting our people. Give the genuine and last peace a chance to prevail in our land,” he said.

Surigao del Norte Provincial Board Member Myrna M. Romarate, who is the ambassador of Women’s’ Federation for World Peace–Philippines urged the government to make a step forward for the resumption of peace talks.

“Peace is everyone’s concern and this could be resolved not by armed conflict but by simply putting all issues and concerns on the table,” she said.

Madlos earlier said the release of the four policemen was a goodwill gesture to promote the peace talks. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)