Lumads push for peace sanctuaries

Erlinda Pagalan, a Lumad bakwit from Sitio Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon in Lianga, Surigao del Sur shares with a grandchild a small space at the provincial sports complex in Tandag City on 1 October 2015. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/31 August) – Tribal leaders are planning to establish peace sanctuaries within their ancestral domains in Mindanao that they hope the military and the New People’s Army (NPA) will acknowledge even if peace negotiations between the government and communist leaders won’t resume.

In a press conference Wednesday at the Mergrande Ocean Resort, Talomo District, Alim Bandara, Timuay Supreme Council on Justice and Governance of the Teduray-Lambiangan tribe in Upi, Maguindanao, said the Lumads need peace sanctuaries because it’s them who bear the brunt of the armed conflict.

He said the cancellation of the fifth round of talks between government (GRP) and National Democratic Front (NDF) in the Netherlands saddened them because they were hoping a bilateral ceasefire agreement would be forged.

He said this prompted them to gather tribal leaders in conflict areas around Mindanao to hatch peace sanctuaries that will be off-limits to armed encounters.

He said the wants the peace sanctuaries established instead “kung hindi man kakayanin ng estado tsaka CPP-NPA na magkaroon ng kasunduan para ihinto ang kaguluhan (if the government and CPP-NPA could not arrive at an agreement to stop the armed conflict).”

Bandara said they plan to sit down with leaders of the Lumad Mindanao Peoples Federation, Mindanao IP Forum and Katawhang Lumad under Mindanao People’s Peace Movement to plan out the peace sanctuaries that will be presented to Indigenous Peoples peace panel chair Atty. Reuben Lingating before December.

He added they will negotiate with tribal leaders who are identified with the NPA because “halos walang natirang IP community na walang NPA (there’s almost no IP community left without NPA presence) as far as Mindanao is concerned.”

“Ang pagkakaunawa ko dun nasa discussion level pa sila (I understand they are still on the discussion level and they intend to submit it to the panel that I represent in the GRP-IP peace panel. So whatever that is, perhaps we can take that and engage them in-depth in the concept and then we will help in a way OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process) can do,” Lingating said.

The government has its limitations, you cannot just go across the table,” he explained.

He said that “peace sanctuaries are a new concept” that would provide shelter to IPs who have been caught in the crossfire between the military and the NPA.

He acknowledged that conflicts among IPs emerged because some would side with the military and others with the NPA but “they do not forget the fact that they belong to one big family.”

“What they are, in fact, saying is maybe these families can talk without interventions with the government, military. They just talk it over and they will establish the peace sanctuary that even if soldiers and NPAs would fight it out, these areas will be spared,” he said.

He said the Lumad leaders would try to resolve the internal conflicts through the “traditional conflict resolution mechanism” that has been recognized by the indigenous communities.

Alim said IP communities have their own traditional justice system that would be enough to address conflicts, such as “rido” or family feud.

He said peace zones had been established in the past by government and rebel forces but it did not succeed as the conflicts persisted.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza said what would make the peace sanctuaries different this time is that it will be the IPs who will decide on it without intervention by external groups.

“The big difference is that peace sanctuaries are initiated by themselves, by the Lumads, and then they see to it that they will find the mechanisms to make it work in their own indigenous way,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)