“We believe this possibility should not be wasted.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – As President Duterte is mulling to scrap peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) even before it started, international indigenous rights activists are urging him to keep to the path of peace.
In a letter to Duterte, the Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) expressed support for the peace negotiations, which they said “can only lead to the betterment of the situation of indigenous peoples in the Philippines.”
The letter was submitted to Malacañang on Aug. 8, along with the six-point Indigenous Peoples’ (IP) Agenda being proposed to the President by the Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu).
The letter and IP Agenda were hand-delivered to the Office of the President by IPMSDL global coordinator Beverly Longid and Jomorito Goaynon, chairperson of the Lumád group Kalumbay-Northern Mindanao Region.
The groups held a picket on Aug. 8 at Mendiola on the occasion of the World Indigenous Peoples Day.
The statement, “A chance for peace: supporting the opportunity for a just and lasting peace in the Philippines,” was signed by 73 groups and 96 individuals from all over the world.
The IPMSDL said the resumption of peace talks can lead to lesser violations of human rights of indigenous peoples, as both sides will tackle the roots of armed conflict. The group also supported the possible signing of a comprehensive agreement on economic, social and cultural rights (Caser) that will uphold the indigenous peoples’ rights to land and self-determination.
“This peace process and the possible resulting peace agreement present a possibility of providing a template for future work of other indigenous peoples in other parts of the world. We believe this possibility should not be wasted,” said the IPMSDL statement.
In another statement for World Indigenous Peoples Day, Longid noted how some 3,000 Lumád remain in evacuation sites in Mindanao. “Due to the GRP’s anti-insurgency drive, many indigenous peoples in the Philippines are forced to leave their ancestral lands,” she said.
“What we indigenous peoples need is for the roots of the armed conflict and social injustice in this country be addressed. Otherwise, more lives will be destroyed. We want peace,” said Longid.
Scheduled to resume in Oslo, Norway on Aug. 20 to 27, the GRP-NDFP talks has hit a snag as Duterte threatened to forego the talks after two armed clashes between soldiers and New People’s Army in Davao and Compostela Valley left five dead on the government side.
The CPP said the NPA unit only thwarted an attack by a composite unit of soldiers of the 72nd infantry battalion, Cafgu and the paramilitary group Alamara, which took off from the camp for combat operations on July 27, in violation of the government ceasefire.
After Duterte lifted the ceasefire on July 30, a second clash occured on Aug. 5, in Monkayo, Compostela Valley, which left four soldiers dead from a land mine explosion. Duterte threatened the NPA to stop the use of land mines: “Either you stop it, or we stop talking.”
The NDFP had explained that they use command-detonated land mines, which is allowed under the Geneva Convention and the Ottawa Treaty. Meantime, the NDFP still awaits the release of its detained peace consultants before Aug. 20.
Longid lamented that no political prisoner has been released as part of the trust-building measures for the talks.
“Kennedy Bangibang and Loida Magpatoc should be released prior to the peace talks. With their experience, they can provide valuable input to the negotiations,” said Longid.
The two consultants have been in detention since 2013. Bangibang, the NDFP consultant for Cordillera and national minority affairs, was arrested in Mt. Province in February 2013, while Magpatoc, a regional consultant on environmental issues affecting indigenous peoples communities, was arrested in September 2013 in Davao del Sur.
The indigenous groups said they remain hopeful, but “watchful,” as the peace efforts may be derailed by those “with vested interests.”
“We are optimistic. We believe this peace process has a chance to work,” said the IPMSDL statement.