Lumad groups urge government, NDF to continue peace talks

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Indigenous leaders from northern and western Mindanao on Friday, June 22, called on the government not to postpone the peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF)​.

President Rodrigo Duterte asked for a 3-month suspension of the peace talks with the NDFP to further study the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantee (JASIG) and other documents that pertains to the peace process.​ (READ: Communist rebels OK 3-month postponement of peace talks)

Datu Dulphing Ogan, secretary general of Kalumaran organization, said indigenous peoples (IPs) will benefit the most from the talks as this will bring peace to their lands.​

Ogan said they pushed for the National Minority agenda, which they submitted to the Philippine government and the NDF, the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philppines (CPP).​

Ogan cited 3 problems common among IPs in Mindanao: the inability to exercise their right to self-determination, socio-economic violations, and human rights violations.​

The NPA rebels, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Phiippines, and government troops often operate in the hinterlands where the IPs are, leaving them vulnerable to violations from both sides.​

Ogan added these issues, coupled with a weak government and investment interests in their ancestral domains, bring suffering to the IPs who have to endure these violations.​

“We want the peace panel to recognize these [issues],” Ogan said.​

An essential peace process 

Earlier, National Anti Poverty Commission Secretary Liza Maza said that the continuation of the peace talks is essential to improve the lives of the poor and the less fortunate.​ “To end poverty therefore requires us to build peace-and vice versa,” Maza told reporters here on Thursday,  June 21, during the second Mindanao peace forum for legislators and local government.​

“There is a close mutual relation between poverty and peace. Where there is armed conflict, families are often displaced, and their access to even the most basic needs is compromised,” Maza added. ​

She said that where there is chronic poverty and gross inequality, there is social unrest.​

​Datu Jomorito Guaynon, Chairman of Kalumbay Lumad Organization, said legal organizations and their staff are accused of being front organizations of the rebels. They are thus targeted for tagging by state forces as supporters of the New People's Army (NPA), the armed unit of the CPP.​

“The lumads too are accused of being supporters of the NPA rebels, we are forced to surrender,” Goaynon said.​ Goaynon added the IPs  are saddened by the suspension of the peace talks.​

Eufemia Cullamat, chairperson of Kasalo Caraga, said they once supported Duterte’s presidential bid because he promised to take care of the Lumad.​

“He promised to give justice to the lumad and to continue the peace talks, but once he sat down he cancelled the peace talks more than once,” Cullamat said.​

Cullamat added the military presence in Surigao del Sur is disturbing the peace of the Lumad people.

“What kind of peace we can attain if there are military detachments in our communities that accuse us (of being) supporters of the NPA?,” Cullamat said further.​

Can't stand down

Major General Ronald Villanueva, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, said Duterte asked for the suspension of the peace talks to personally study the agreements reached with the NDF.​

The 4th ID operates in Region 10 and Caraga, where estimates point to 4,000 regular armed rebels, the biggest presence of NPA in the country.​

Villanueva said that they cannot stand down operations against the NPA.​

He justified the continued operations against the NPA as saying it is the mandate of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to protect the constitution of the republic.​

“We have our mandate, we cannot be dictated upon except upon orders of the President,” Villanueva added.​ – Rappler.com