Rebel IP leader signs peace pact with government forces

By Lilian Mellejor

June 11, 2018, 3:21 pm

DAVAO CITY – The feared tribal leader of the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Inkanugon and the Langilan-Manobo tribe in Talaingod, Davao del Norte extended his hands in peace after years of fighting the government.

Datu Gibang Apoga, the chieftain of the Langilan-Manobo Tribe, together with the members of his group, signed a peace covenant with the security forces and the government officials in a tribal ceremony called “Pakag” or “Tampura” in the remote village of Nasilaban, Palma Gil, Talaingod on Saturday.

Maj. Ezra Balagtey, the spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), said on Sunday that Apoga and the Langilan-Manobo Tribe were received by local government officials and other members of the "lumad" (native) communities of Talaingod.

A copy of the Peace Covenant obtained by the Philippine News Agency (PNA) showed it was thumb marked by Apoga and signed by various lumad leaders, the military, and local officials.

The covenant expressed commitment to support the foundation laid down for former rebels and the Indigenous Peoples Engagement and Evaluation, as well as support for improved conditions of the IPs and the former rebels.

Apoga rose to become a feared tribal leader after leading an armed opposition against the Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) project, a commercial logging operation in mid-1990’s in the ancestral domain. The IFMA would have covered an additional 17,000 hectares within the ancestral domain.

Apoga had also closed ranks with other tribal leaders to fight the Alcantara and Sons commercial reforestation project within their ancestral domain.

He had earlier been accused of leading the Pulang Bagani Command, a group of armed tribal warriors that the Army has linked to the New People’s Army (NPA). For the tribe, however, Bagani is a noble title granted to the protectors of tribal lands.

Balagtey said the struggle of Apoga and his group has sown division among the tribes and made Talaingod a hotbed of the insurgency in Davao del Norte.

Aside from signing the covenant, Balagtey said Apoga also turned-over his firearm to BGen. Ernesto Torres Jr, commander of the 1003rd Infantry Brigade, and Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Paredes, the Battalion Commander of 56IB, in the presence of about 500 leaders and members of the tribal community.

Apoga’s return to Nasilaban was seen as the positive outcome of the military’s continued peace initiatives with different tribal groups in the area of the Eastmincom.

Torres expressed commitment to sustain and implement the peace covenant.

"Together with the LGUs (local government units) and LGAs (local government agencies), we will continue doing confidence-building measures to solidify this peace gain,” Torres said.

Asked if Apoga has standing criminal cases, Torres In a follow-up interview on Monday said a quick check with the courts, police and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, showed that Apoga either has no standing cases, or that these have already been dismissed.

Eastmincom commander Lt. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., lauded the signing of the covenant and directed the 1003rd brigade to pursue the peace initiatives with a reminder to respect the culture of the lumads.

"We shall continue to pursue peace with the different tribal groups in our area by protecting their right to their ancestral domain, facilitating the delivery of socio-economic projects in their respective ancestral domains anchored on the respect to their culture, the indigenous knowledge, systems, practices, and their indigenous political structure" Madrigal said in a statement. (Lilian C. Mellejor/PNA)