• Baguio City, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines


April 20, 2019

“Layden tako nan kapya ya olnos ngem nan salodsod, kas-ano ngata?” (We all want peace and order but the question is how?) – barangay captain, Tadian, Mountain Province.

The recent incidents of armed encounters in Mountain Province in the context of the civil war in the country made communities grieve with lives lost and stirred public discourse on war and peace, much as our elders would reflect after major incidents that would affect our ili – to understand the causes of the incidents, to draw lessons in order to protect the people’s rights and welfare and to take action towards these. Tapnu makessayan ken awanen koma ti madangran (to mitigate damage and avoid further harm).

Recently, we noted that there again are deplorable attempts to associate homegrown people’s organizations Alyansa dagiti Pesante iti taeng Kordilyera (Alliance of Peasants in the Cordillera Homeland), the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) and the Montanosa Research and Development Center (MRDC) to the New People’s Army (NPA) and even unwarranted calls for these legal organizations to cease their work in the province sowing more division in our communities.

While we condole with the deaths of kailians - two members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) who died in the line of duty, we find it unacceptable to put civilians’ safety and security at risk with political vilification, harassments and other violations.

What do we gain from this?

This is condemnable. Nu isakit tayo ti kailian, it is more important to shed light on why there is a civil war in the country.

In the opening of the Lang-ay Festival, Department of Justice Associate Secretary Cheryl Daytec stated a core issue in the discourse: “Massive social injustice - manifested in widespread poverty and the huge gap between the rich and the poor- is the root cause of the armed rebellion. It is scandalous that 85% of the wealth in this country, which is the 5th most mineralized country in the world, is controlled by 40 families. The Cordillera, which is very rich in natural resources, is one of the country’s poorest regions. Socio- economic discontent is a breeding ground for anti-government sentiments if not insurgency. While this breeding ground is fertile, it will always host the growth of new rebels. The Martial Law experience of the Filipino people validates this. In the Cordillera region, the violation of our rights as indigenous peoples had propelled fine young women and men to rebellion. When laws were passed making us squatters on our own ancestral lands, when laws were passed making it illegal and criminal for us to harvest forest products in our ancestral domains for non-commercial uses, discontent became widespread. Addressing this social discontent is a far more effective counter-insurgency measure than total war, which may, in fact, inspire further distrust in the State, the kind that may evolve into rebellion.”

We are deeply saddened and frustrated that the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have been put to a halt when it was already going to table core issues of the strife in the country – socio-economic injustice and massive human rights violations.

Laws and policies have furthered the misrepresentation of people’s interests, much more those who are historically marginalized and discriminated as our experience as indigenous peoples. Representation in government has not even solved our concerns. This fact is been underscored and validated even by the United Nations.

Are we not also going to ask why our sons and daughters opt to become members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with the Cordillera region being among the poorest in the country despite its rich and vast natural resources? Panggedan – an important agenda in the peace talks. Had there been more options and more opportunities, we know that many of our children would choose better employment for their families. They and their families understand the risks and hazards of signing up for the PNP and AFP, one of which is death in the line of duty, which now for the PNP instead of their mandate just on peace and order has been expanded by State policy to include counter-insurgency.

“Layden tako nan kapya ya olnos ngem nan salodsod, kas-ano ngata?”

The path to peace has become more difficult with the Duterte administration’s total war policy and militaristic stance in addressing the civil war. The GRP’s unilateral termination of the peace talks, attacks against NDFP peace consultants including the extrajudicial killing of Randy Malayao, the continuous attacks on the civil, political and economic rights of the people, and the wholesale sell-out of our national sovereignty worsened the strife rather than heal it.

But we all continue to believe in hope and collective action. The peace talks are not reliant on just the parties involved but on how, we as citizens should all work for peace and compel the warring parties to go back to the negotiating table.

Come the mid-term elections, our clamor for peace should be translated to compelling all those seeking public office to make genuine peace an integral agenda in all their platforms.

Gapu ta kayat tayo ti kapia, iduron ken ipanawagan tayo nga ituloy ti saritaan-kapia iti baet ti GRP ken NDFP (Because we aspire for peace, we should all push and call for the resumption of peace talks between the GRP and NDFP). Now, more than ever, it is important to build the people’s concerted call for the resumption of the peace talks and work towards genuine peace – not just silenced guns but the peace the whole nation wants and deserves – peace based on justice.#

Windel Bolinget
Chairperson, CPA
Myra dela Cruz
Cordillera Human Rights Alliance