Army, Cordillera leaders support localized peace talks

By Liza Agoot

July 10, 2018, 7:27 pm

LOCALIZED PEACE TALKS. Leaders of the Cordillera are one with the 5th Infantry Division in backing the conduct of localized peace talks. (From left) Brigidier Gen. Henry Robinson of the 702nd Brigade, Major Gen. Perfecto Rimando of the 5th Infantry Division, Chief Supt. Rolando Nana of the Police Regional Office Cordillera, NEDA-CAR Regional Director Milagros Rimando, Ifugao Governor Pedro Mayam-o, and Benguet Governor Crescencio Pacalso attend the Cordillera Regional Development Council meeting in Ifugao last month (June 18, 2018). (Photo by Liza T. Agoot)

BAGUIO CITY -- The 5th Infantry Division (5ID) of the Philippine Army and the Cordillera Regional Development Council (RDC) have both expressed support to the plan of the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to pursue localized peace talks with the communist terrorist groups (CTGs) or the New People's Army (NPA).

The RDC approved the move in its last meeting in June.

In a statement received Monday evening, Capt. Jeffrey Somera, chief of the 5th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office (DPAO), said unit commander Major Gen. Perfecto Rimando backs the said program, given the distinct cultures of Filipinos.

The Army's 5th Infantry Division operates in Cordillera and Region 2.

The Army division chief’s statement came as the DND and AFP leadership recommended that a much practical approach be undertaken to end the communist terrorist influence in the countryside.

"We should not single out the approach in relation to peace talks because the approach applied in one area might not be appropriate in another area," Rimando said. "Localized peace talks is the better alternative, since the communist terrorists here in Northern Luzon have different motives compared with their comrades in Visayas and Mindanao.”

The Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) has its own way of settling its communities' problems. A proof of this was the successful negotiation that ended the uprising of the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) through the intervention of tribal elders years ago.

In Cagayan Valley Region, the active participation and initiatives of the provincial and municipal leaders have led to the surrender of NPAs in the past months. Authorities said this might be considered a big step for a localized approach to the insurgency problem.

In Cagayan province, former rebels may now get employed under the Cagayan Employment Assistance Program of the province.

Somera said 13 former rebels, who were among the 30 surrenderers in the first quarter of the year, are now employed by the local government.

“With this development in our area of operation, we are optimistic that a long-lasting peace in the area of Cagayan Valley and Cordillera Region is within reach," Rimando said in the statement. "The 5ID will give its all-out support to any initiative being pursued by the local leaders in relation to the localized peace talks with the CTGs.”

In its second-quarter meeting last June, members of the Cordillera RDC approved the proposal for the creation of peace initiatives in the provinces of the region to back the national government’s peace talks with the NPA and other armed groups.

Milagros Rimando, RDC co-chairman and National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Cordillera regional director, said the Cordillera RDC had passed a general resolution supporting the crafting of mechanics on the conduct of localized peace talks.

Andy Ngao-I, an RDC member who chairs the Kalinga Peace and Order Council and the Kalinga Bodong Council, said the Kalinga Bodong or the indigenous practice of settling disputes could also be adopted.

“We can always call out the members of the left-leaning groups, who are ‘binudngan’ (tribe members),” he said.

Ngao-I was one of the CPLA members, who served as a secretariat when the government, under then President Corazon Aquino, had the Mount Data Sipat agreement in 1987. The agreement made the region’s armed groups lay down their arms, using the indigenous bodong system.

Natives of Kalinga are particular about adhering, honoring, and supporting the indigenous system of settling disputes, where a tribe leader picked by the community represents the tribesmen in a “bodong” (peace pact) with another tribe. The pact covers tribe members outside the province and outside the country.

Ngao-I said the indigenous peace practices can be used to encourage local NPAs to stop the atrocities in their communities.

“In the indigenous system, even if you are a leftist, whether you like it or not, you are still under the umbrella of the bodong,” he pointed out.

"It is important that local peace initiatives be strengthened because national talks have bogged down a number of times," Thom Killip, a former Sagada town mayor and former Presidential Adviser for Northern Luzon under the Arroyo administration, said. "But the real action takes place on the ground. That is why we would like to suggest that each community should be able to establish its own peace initiatives. Filipinos must have a collective and constitutional right for a community to come up with its mechanism for its survival and protection. That’s what we are doing.” (PNA)