SOS, Reds spreading baseless info vs. gov’t: IP leaders
By Alexander Lopez / Philippine News Agency
BUTUAN CITY – Indigenous peoples (IP) leaders in Surigao del Sur, particularly in Lianga town urged the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and militant organizations to stop their lies and respect the IP justice system which part of the self-governance mechanisms existing in their communities.
The IP leaders made the call after the Save Our School (SOS) Network and communist-linked groups accused the military of killing three IP members, one of whom was a minor, in a clash between government forces and NPA rebels Sitio New Decoy, Barangay Diatagon, Lianga town on June 15.
“They are so fast in spreading information that is baseless. The SOS has been spreading this kind of information to sow hatred against the government,” said Datu Constancio Duhac, the Municipal Tribal Chieftain of Lianga, in an interview with the Philippine News Agency on Friday.
Lianga told the SOS and other militant groups to stop manipulating the issue and allow the justice system of the Manobo tribe to resolve the issues.
“It is easy for the SOS to throw accusations. This is what they have been doing ever since, to deceive the people through their posts on Facebook,” Duhac said.
He said the families of the NPA rebels who perished during the encounter have already agreed to process and investigate the issues surrounding the incident through the customary laws and justice system of the tribe.
Duhac added that meetings with the families, which were facilitated by the tribal council of Lianga, were held on June 16 and 17.
During the meetings, all the parties agreed that the investigation must be based on the customary laws and the justice system of the Manobo tribe.
He said the government and the military already provided the families with the support they need especially during the wake and burial of the victims.
“The families themselves requested support from the government especially during the time of their mourning,” he said.
Militant groups’ own interests, agenda
The agreement during the meetings was also confirmed by Datu Alexander Bucales, the Indigenous People Mandatory Representative (IPMR) of Lianga.
“The IPMR in Lianga and Surigao del Sur joined the meetings, including the representatives from the National Commission on Indigenous People in the province,” Bucales said in a separate interview Friday.
He criticized the SOS and other groups for using the issue to advance their own interests and agenda.
“The SOS and other leftist groups must stop using the issue. Their only aim is to advance their own agenda and interests. Allow the justice system of the Manobo tribe to take its course to resolve all the issues and concerns,” Bucales said.
He added that the SOS and other left-leaning groups have been, for years, discrediting the existing tribal councils and the recognized IPMRs in Surigao del Sur, particularly in Lianga.
“Six barangays in Lianga already have recognized IPMRs in their councils. The SOS and other communists groups are making efforts for years to destroy these existing systems in our barangays,” he said.
He added that the military and other concerned groups have adhered to the agreement and assured respect to the customary laws and justice system of the tribe.
Bucales said the SOS and the other leftist groups must also respect and follow what the families and the IP leaders have agreed.
Both Duhac and Bucales expressed optimism the justice system of the tribe will resolve all the issues and concerns related to the recent encounter between the military and the NPA in the area.
NPA recruitment killing IP youths
Both IP leaders lamented the persisting recruitment of the NPA among the tribal members in Surigao del Sur, particularly the youth.
Duhac said the continuing NPA recruitment serves as “insurance of death for our youth and communities.”
“These young generation of IPs are the future of our communities. As the NPA recruit them to fight and overthrow the government, their deaths are certain, so as the future of our communities,” he added.
He believes the minor killed during the June 15 encounter was a recruit of the NPA rebels.
“The NPA recruitment continues, especially in remote IP villages. The rebels exploit the lack of education among our youths and their economic life conditions,” Duhac said.
He recalled that in 2017, his grandson, a minor, was recruited by the rebels and was killed in an encounter.
“It’s painful to see our children fall to the deceptions of the NPA and eventually die in the battlefields, abandoned by their leaders,” Duhac said.
Disregard for IP rights
Bucales condemned the NPA for disregarding the rights of the IPs in Lianga.
“The NPA recruitment continues especially in the hinterlands of Lianga and the neighboring towns in Surigao del Sur. We are fighting to stop it,” he said.
Bucales is the younger brother of Datu Jumar, the late IPMR of Lianga who was waylaid and killed by the NPA guerrillas in October last year.
His late brother, he said, offered his life to protect the IP communities in Lianga against the exploitation, recruitment, and deceptions of the NPA.
“We are working with the different line agencies, the local government, and the Army to stop this recruitment to save our children. But despite these efforts, the NPA rebels manage to intrude into our communities and poison the minds of our children,” Bucales said.
NPA, top lawbreaker
Duhac said the NPA is a noted violator of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and local law that govern the IP communities, particularly the Indigenous People Rights Act (IPRA).
“Recruitment of minors and using them in war are violations of the IHL. Entry into our ancestral domains without going through processes violates the provisions of the IPRA law. The NPA rebels have been violating these laws for many years,” Duhac said.
He added that NPA rebels have been frequenting IP communities inside the ancestral lands conducting recruitment, harassment, and killing of IPs.
“There’s nothing our people can do once the NPA rebels encroach in our ancestral lands, disregarding our laws. They are fully armed. Our leaders and ordinary members who question their disrespect are executed,” Duhac said.
Bucales said the IPMR in Lianga and members of the tribal council continue to condemn the NPA for the countless violations and atrocities they committed against the Manobo tribe in the area.
“We are also asking the government to continue to support the IPMRs and the council members. Support is also needed in our communities, especially in the remote areas to protect our people from the NPA rebels,” he said.
Duhac and Bucales admitted that their lives are continuously threatened by NPA rebels.
“The NPA rebels said that I am more hard-headed compared to my late brother Datu Jumar,” he said.
Standing firm amidst the threats is the only option left, Bucales said, as he needs to continue the advocacies of his late brother in protecting the IP communities of Lianga from the NPA.
“The threats from the rebels never stopped. These threats are directed to me and the other members of the tribal council of Lianga,” Duhac said.
Despite the threats, the tribal council must continue their tasks because being defeated by fear would mean further destruction of more IP communities from the hands of the rebels, he added.
The Communist Party of the Philippines - NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. (PNA)