Aquino hit for embracing paramilitary group in Cordillera

Northern Dispatch

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BAGUIO CITY – Aside from his total failure to uplift the situation of Cordillera indigenous peoples, the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) said President Benigno S. Aquino III has no regard for victims of human rights violations when it accommodated, as its economic partner in the region, “a paramilitary group known for its record of killing civilians.”

CPA secretary general Abigail Anongos said Noynoy Aquino, like his mother Corazon Aquino, embraced the Cordillera People’s Army (CPLA) and gave the thumbs up for the armed group to be “converted” into a socio-economic group.

The CPLA is the armed ground founded by the late Conrado Balweg. But after its peace talks with the government, progressive groups such as the CPA said the CPLA has turned into a paramilitary group being supported by the AFP and the government. CPA, on the other hand, is the oldest regional federation of indigenous community organizations, which was founded in 1984, and counts more than 100 community and sectoral organizations in its membership in the region.

Anongos added that CPLA officials were given privilege positions during the time of his mother who issued Executive Order 220. EO 220 created the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR); the Cordillera Executive Board (CEB); and Cordillera Regional Assembly (CRA) which were controlled by the Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBAd), CPLA’s political arm. It was dissolved during the time of former president Joseph Estrada due to the demand of various sectors on alleged ineffectiveness and corruption.

Aquino repeated history. “We are very disappointed,” Anongos said. The CPA actively lobbied for the regionalization of the Cordillera provinces, and during the 1986 Constitutional Commission for the incorporation of a provision for the autonomous region of the Cordillera.

The provision now mandates for the autonomous regions of the Cordillera and Muslim Mindanao.
She added that the CPLA had committed various crimes and gross human rights violations.

“This same paramilitary group is the one accountable for the extrajudicial killing of CPA leaders and organizers like Ama Daniel Ngayaan and Romy Gardo?and yet, Aquino’s mother, Cory Aquino, integrated the CPLA into the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during her term,” CPA said in its statement issued in time for Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (Sona). Ngayaan, a tribal leader of Tanglag, Kalinga was abducted by CPLA and his remains were never located up to this day. Gardo was a Tinggian youth leader who was murdered by the CPLA. Justice has never been served to the families of these CPA leaders.

Cordillera remains a mere resource base to government, CPA said. “The ancestral domain is a resource base where the plunder and exploitation by large multinational mining and other destructive projects continue unabated,” the group said.

It noted that the mining industry was further liberalized under Aquino, with mining investments having increased by 65 percent in 2010 alone. Since March 2011, approved mining agreements at a nationwide scale now reach 785, while mining concessions increased to cover 1,042.531 hectares compared to 782 hectares in 2009.

More than 200 applications were endorsed and approved under Aquino, and five of the 23 priority mining projects across the country are in the Cordillera. Of the Cordillera, total land area of 1.8 million hectares, close to a million is covered by mining tenements, according to the CPA.

Aside from mining are projects to tap the region’s energy resources. Five geothermal projects are in the offing: the Acupan and Daclan projects in Benguet, the Buguias-Tinoc project in Benguet and Ifugao, the Mainit-Sadanga project in the Mountain Province and the Kalinga project.

The last is the biggest, involving substantial portions of the municipalities of Tinglayan, Pasil, and Lubuagan, being undertaken by the global energy giant Chevron, which has a clear track record violating indigenous peoples’ rights in the Amazon, CPA added.

These developments pose serious threat to the Cordillera region, which is the watershed cradle of Northern Luzon,” the CPA said, adding that that the only source of the indigenous peoples livelihood, their ancestral lands, will be destroyed.

CPA also deemed that with Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan, intense militarization continues in the region. Operations of the 501st, 502nd and 503rd Brigades, all under the 5th Infantry Division resulted in the destruction of properties, bombings, shelling, sexual abuse, illegal search and seizure; threats, harassment and intimidation; illegal arrest and detention, and encampment.

“It is true that one year is not enough for any president to resolve social and economic woes of the country – but one year is enough to create building blocks for genuine reform and set strategic directions for the Filipino people’s interests. Aquino has simply failed to do this, and many were blinded with hype and rhetoric. What is clear is a year after the Aquino presidency, it tolerates and licenses corruption, human rights violations and further marginalizes the majority of the Filipino people,” CPA said.

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