Unsung in the peace process

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By Ramon Dacawi

Benchwarmer

Friday, February 21, 2014


WHILE he is usually called to play a crucial role early in the process, Jaime "Tigan-o" Dugao hardly figures in the news about a peace pact restored or a truce forged to allow amicable settlement of a clan, inter-village or tribal dispute in these Cordillera uplands.

Understandably so, as he and other traditional peacemakers are not the party to conflicts they are asked to help resolve, sometimes with extreme urgency, by one or both of the protagonists, their relatives and villages.

After all, while the actual signing of the truce or settlement caps the process, it’s not the defining moment. The breakthrough, which must be worked on early on, comes when the aggrieved party accepts the peacemaker’s white flag, partly out of trust in the latter’s integrity and fair-mindedness. A truce defuses tension, averts escalation of violence in the case of grave criminal acts like murder, and allows talks towards peaceful settlement.

At a chance meeting with friends from Baguio during the annual Lang-ay festival in Bontoc, Mt. Province, Tigan-o, a 65-year old father of six, broke into an almost toothless smile when asked how and why he got himself into the thick of things.

He recalled having been initially asked to settle differences between individuals and then to resolve lot boundary conflicts. His successes at brokering began to pile up until he was asked to convince villagers on the warpath over a killing to change course and accept his truce offering, traditionally a metal item such as a machete.

In one attempt, he said it took almost a day before a village agreed to negotiate. His party had traveled for hours to reach the village.

“We were famished but couldn’t ask to be fed until they would accept our token for truce,” he recalled. “It was four o’clockin the afternoon when they did,” he added, grinning again.

“In this, you learn the virtue of patience, to keep quiet and to listen…and know when to speak,” he said over coffee at the second-floor veranda of the Churya-a Inn as the Lang-ay cultural parade moved on through Bontoc’s main street below.

“We always believe they (feuding parties) know the solution if only they would go back to it,” he stressed.

Still, why agree to mediate and withstand the stress of it all?
“Kasla ragsak nga ag-pacify (It’s a joy to pacify),” he answered with the tact and restraint of a seasoned peace broker.

Tigan-o was into it even before his three-term service (from 2002 to 2010) as punong barangay of Amkileng, Sagada town where he also served as municipal councilor representing the barangays.

His group’s biggest breakthrough came in the 1990s, after a slow and painstaking groundwork for the restoration of peace and quiet in Sagada. The result was the establishment of a Peace Zone that now serves as a model for adjoining towns, other localities in the country and even in other countries.

Sagada then was besieged by armed encounters between government soldiers and New People’s Army rebels. With civilians being caught in the crossfire and residents unable to work and till their farms, the people made clear their position for demilitarization of Sagada to top brass of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the NPA.”

In numerous dialogues with both sides, Tigan-o, then Sagada vice-mayor Thomas Killip, then parish priest and now Bishop Alex Wandag, Fr. Peter Alangui, Dr. Andrew Tauli and others tried to sink in the message: Please wage your firefights outside Sagada.

“The Peace Zone effectively set in concrete terms the supremacy of civilian rule, upheld and upgraded the rules of engagement and fleshed out the meaning of self-rule or autonomy,” then Presidential Assistant Killip pointed out last year. “The Peace Zone was the people’s collective act of self-determination.”

“The AFP saw it as a ploy of the NPA to gain foothold in Sagada, while the NPA suspected it as an AFP strategy to pit the civilian population against them,” Killip explained.

“We were consistent in our position from the start that demilitarization from both side was the will of the civilian population,” Tigan-o said. “Both sides swore to serve the people and we said we were and are the people.”

The breakthrough, Tigan-o, pointed out, came when then Senator Rodolfo Biazon recognized the wisdom of it all, leading to its approval in principle by then President Fidel Ramos.

Sagada’s quest for peace led to the establishment of a cluster zone of peace also covering the towns of Besao, Bontoc and Sadanga, initially chaired by the late Catholic Bishop Cornelio Wigwigan and then former Bontoc mayor Alfonso Kiat-ong.

Aside from preventing armed encounters between government and rebel forces, the peace zone cluster, Killip said in April last year, had mediated 17 village and tribal conflicts. These include the rift in 2009 between Data, Sabangan, Mt. Province and Taccong, Sagada on one hand, and Tulgao, Tinglayan, Kalinga on the other, over the murder of a Tulgao-based businessman.

“Their names were not in the papers but those who actually brokered the peace were there from the start, from the crucial moment of having to hold on to a fragile status quo to prevent further bloodshed and give them the time needed to set into motion the peace talks,” Killip stressed.

Among others, he cited Tigan-o, saying “it was he who saw through the negotiations until the last ritual that restored peace pacts between and among the communities”. (e-mail: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on February 22, 2014.

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