MANILA, Philippines – “In full view of villagers in Northern Sagada.”
This was how a peace advocate described the attack by government forces on communist rebels in Sagada, Mountain province of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) on Friday, August 30.
The social media post — shared by at least 781 Facebook users — alerted news organizations of the aerial bombing.
The days following the airstrike marked the country’s National Peace Consciousness Month, celebrated every September.
Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles earlier said in a statement that the peace month celebration centers on the theme “Lahat ay peace-sible!” (Everything can be settled peacefully). The theme also plays on the word “possible.”
Advocate Dom-an Macagne, who posted the update while the firefight was ongoing, is the head of Kasiyana Peace and Healing Initiative.
Capture of big NPA camp
An initial assault on the Communist Party of the Philippines/New Peoples’ Army (CPP/NPA) was launched Thursday, August 29.
Steve Rogers, who was also in Sagada, observed in a separate social media post that a military helicopter landed in a small clearing across the valley Thursday morning.
“Looks like there’s an encounter going on out on the Mainit/Aguid boundary,” he noted.
The Police Regional Office-Cordillera (PRO-COR) requested for close air support to soften enemy fire and disable improvised explosive devices (IEDs) scattered by the NPA rebels.
The assault injured two policemen, but successfully captured a big NPA camp.
Intelligence reports said the camp was located in the remote barangay of Aguid, Sagada under the command of NPA’s Kilusang Larangan Guerilla (KLG).
Human rights group Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA)-KARAPATAN was quick to condemn the military operations.
On Friday, August 31, the group issued a statement calling for an end to the use of airstrikes in military operations, citing its impact on “the livelihood source of the people.“
“The armed conflict will not be solved with bombs and bullets. The roots of the armed conflict should be addressed and the peace talks should be resumed,” the CHRA-KARAPATAN’s statement said.
Police Senior Supt Davy Vicente Limmong, spokesperson of the Philippine National Police-CAR, said there was no collateral damage and civilian immunity was respected.
In its statement, however, CHRA-KARAPATAN said the damage caused by the attacks is “still being assessed.”
“Data is still being gathered if there were civilians directly affected by the airstrikes,” its statement said.
Violation of Sagada Peace Zone
Macagne in her post lamented the violation of the peace zone agreement in Sagada, Cordillera.
“Sagada is a peace zone, violated many times. Calling all peace makers and peace builders… As I type, I hear the explosions…Our kids wonder what is happening, they hear the explosions too,” she wrote.
Macagne was in the sanctuary of her peace center at the time. The peace zone agreement in Sagada was supposed to be in place since the late 1980s.
“The zone of peace in Sagada was largely established by mid-1989,” wrote Peter Sales in the book entitled Caught in the Crossfire: The Peace Zone Experiment in the Philippines as a Means of Conflict Resolution. – Rappler.com