THE imminent all-out war with the Communist rebels following President Rodrigo Duterte’s cancellation of the peace talks will once again bring misery to indigenous peoples (IPs) living in the hinterland areas of Mindanao, a tribal leader said on Thursday, November 23.
Datu Jomorito Goaynon, regional chairperson of the IP group Kalumbay in Northern Mindanao, said the civilians, especially the ‘lumads’ are the first to be victimized whenever a conflict erupts between members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and government troops.
Goaynon said he agrees with the call of peace advocates like Bishop Felixberto Calang for the Duterte administration to resume the talks.
“We fear that if the military will mount an all-out offensive against the rebels, the lumad communities are the first to suffer,” Goaynon said.
He said the conflict would mean the imminent displacement of thousands of lumads who will have to flee for fear of being caught in the crossfire.
The tribal leader added aside from the evacuation of civilians, he will also expect reports of human rights abuses perpetrated by state forces personnel during the fighting as what had happened in the past.
This year alone, he said, lumad communities in Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon had to evacuate and seek the help of their respective provincial government leaders due to the presence of state forces fighting the NPA rebels in their area.
Also in Bukidnon, tribal folk in some villages complain of harassment and killings being carried by the local paramilitary groups.
“It is a cause for concern and worry for us if there is a failure of peace talks. That’s why we are asking Pres. Duterte to continue the peace talks with the NDF,” Goaynon said.
In an earlier interview, Calang has called on the Duterte administration to consider going back to the negotiating table instead of cancelling the peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) as he believes it is the best option to end the decades-long violence in the country, especially in Mindanao.
“For almost 50 years, the government response to the armed conflict is the military option,” said Bishop Felixberto Calang, of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), but he added this did not solve the problem, and in fact, the government has yet to achieve peace through violent means.
“The military option did not stop the insurgency in the country,” Calang said.
“It would be better for President Duterte to resume the peace talks so all the issues could be discussed and hopefully resolved,” Calang had said.
Calang is the co-convenor of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform.
Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on November 24, 2017.