Military to NPA: Give up arms, let’s talk peace

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 Dec) – The newly-minted commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) on Tuesday said the military is willing to sit down with the lumads, progressive groups, and even members of the New People’s Army (NPA) to resolve the alleged militarization and insurgency in the Davao Region.

Maj. Gen. Rey Guerrero addressed members of the Davao media in a press conference at the Royal Mandaya Hotel on Tuesday where he appealed to NPA members to give up armed struggle and go to the peace table with the military to settle issues of militarization.

“Open kami dun. Anything that would contribute to the settlement of the issues to this conflict. Very willing kami to have this kind of dialogue,” he said.

He said there is no need for the warring factions to pick up guns and continue gun battles, as he claimed that, “Slowly yung development ay pumapasok sa ating mga kanayunan. Hindi natin kailangan mag-alsa, mag-aklas laban sa gobyerno. Itong mga hinaing nila ay matutugunan na.”

Guerrero, who assumed his post last December 7, reiterated the military’s stance that he cannot pull out the soldiers in areas where problems of insurgencies are notable.

He said he cannot afford to derail the government operations, most especially in the far-flung barangays where government support for government projects are needed.

“Ang perspective on militarization depends on who’s talking. Kung ang sabi mo militarization ay presensya ng mga sundalo sa mga komunidad, pwede ba nating sabihin na dapat pigilan yun kung ang sundalo doon ay tumutulong sa paghatid ng serbisyo sa gobyerno, ine-escort ang mga agencies, mapipigilan ba nating ang mga sundalo na tumulong sa ahensya ng gobyerno, sabi nga depende ito sa dipinisyon ng militarization,” Guerrero said

He added that the mere military presence in the barangay does not mean “militarization” because they have a duty to carry out on the field, most especially in maintaining peace and order.

“Kami tinawagan upang pumunta sa isang lugar para tingnan ang sitwasyon ng security dun, hindi namin pwedeng tanggihan ang aming mga kababayan. Pag may presensya ng armado sa isang barangay, tinawagan ang military, hindi namin pwedeng tanggihan,” he said.

Guerrero added that it is unfortunate if the IPs are caught in the crossfire between the military and the NPA.

“Hindi namin ninanais na may madamay na mga inosenteng sibilyan sa tunggalian at labanang ito. Kaya kami nga ay nananawagan na kung pupwede pag-usapan, pag-usapan na lang natin yung mga issues na dapat resolbahin. Pwede namn nating mapagusapan sa tulong ng ibang ahensya ng gobyerno,” he added.

In an interview with MindaNews last September, lumad leader Datu Lumansad Sibogan, a trustee of the Ata-Manobo Tribal Council of Elders Association Talaingod, said that IPs have been caught between the conflicts of the military and the NPA.

He urged to the progressive groups and the military to leave them and let the customary laws currently being followed resolve internal conflicts.

Some 200 lumads from Talaingod fled their homes last May, claiming they wanted to escape militarization that has reportedly brought human rights abuses by the military and the paramilitary group “Alamara.”

Sheena Duazo, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Southern Mindanao Region, in a text message, said there have been talks made between them and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) but the military allegedly continuously violated the agreements “even if these agreements were made with the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) between Davao del Norte Gov. Rodolfo del Rosario and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

“So before we engage in another dialogue, we call on the AFP/EastMinCom to first respect and adhere on the lumads’ demands raised during Manilakbayan 2015,” she said.

She demanded to “arrest and prosecute all AFP troops and paramilitary groups involved in human rights violations.”

She urged the military to pull out its troops from schools and communities and disband and disarm the “AFP-backed indigenous paramilitary groups.”

“Indemnify schools and communities that were destroyed and damaged in the course of military operations. Drop all trumped-up charges against progressive and community leaders. Remove Rep. Nancy Catamco as IP committee chair in Congress. Stop harassments and vilification of HR defenders, community schools, and progressive leaders.”

Duazo specifically cited the paramilitary group Alamara operating in Davao del Norte and Bukidnon to be dismantled.