AGAINST NPA INTRUSION. Timuay Lucenio Manda, the chairperson of the Gukom Western Mindanao Tribal Leaders Federation, shows the petition papers they sent on June 23, 2020 to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, seeking help from the UN body to protect their ancestral domain against intrusion by the communist New People's Army. The Gukom is made up of Subanen tribal leaders from different ancestral domains in Region 9 and Misamis Occidental. (PNA photo by Leah D. Agonoy)

PAGADIAN CITY, Zamboanga del Sur--A federation of Subanen tribal leaders in Western Mindanao has appealed to the United Nations (UN) to help them protect their ancestral domains against intrusion by the communist terrorist New People’s Army (NPA).

In a petition sent Tuesday to the UN’s Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights headed by Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria,  Gukom Western Mindanao Tribal Leaders Federation (Gukom) accused the NPA of actively impeding the development of their tribal lands through a combination of atrocities and deceptive tactics.

Gukom, consisting of Subanen tribal leaders from different ancestral domains in Region 9 and Misamis Occidental, had earlier declared the NPA as persona non grata in their ancestral domains.

Timuay Lucenio Manda, the Gukom chairperson, led the signing of the petition and was joined by all members of the federation.

“We don't want them [NPA] to involve the Subanens in their conflict with the government by hiding within the hinterlands and forests that belong under our ancestral domain,” Manda told the Philippine News Agency Thursday.

He said the NPA's armed rebellion against the government “disrupts the development of the Subanen communities. If they wanted to solve their problem, they should talk to the national government and not involve the peaceful living Subanens."

He said Subanents are worried about the continued" intrusion and systematic atrocities" of the NPA, which he said has displaced tribal communities as rebels "illegally occupy" their ancestral lands.

Timuays or tribal elders, he said, are under constant threat of being killed by the communist rebels if they oppose the NPA's "doctrine, principle, and struggle".

“They conduct indoctrination to the IP (Indigenous Peoples) youths, recruiting them to join the terrorism through hate speech and exploitation against the current government system. What is worse, is the destruction of the traditional leadership structure and governance processes,” Manda said.

Timuay Basilio Promon, a tribal leader in Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur, said the presence of the NPA in their forest lands has exposed them to dangers.

Promon said the NPA rebels would force the residents in the area to serve as couriers of food supplies from the town center of Bayog to the hinterlands.

“They (residents) comply in fear of their lives,” the tribal leader told the Philippine News Agency.

“As much as we wanted to stay away from them, they keep coming, and we are afraid being sandwiched between them and the government forces in cases of encounters,” he added.

Promon said they decided to declare the NPAs as persona non grata “as we no longer want them to enter our ancestral domain since we as tribal leaders, wanted peace in our community, and to welcome the development projects of the government”.

Anti-terrorism bill

Meanwhile, Manda said they see the anti-terrorism bill as a" good law", adding the government must raise the awareness of the people in the hinterlands for "proper implementation".

“In general, if you are not a terrorist, why are you afraid of the law?” he said.

Manda noted that basic government services are now being felt in Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur after President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order No. 70, institutionalizing the whole-of-nation approach in attaining inclusive and sustainable peace.

He said road projects are now being implemented in the barangays of Sigacad, Depore, Dimalinao, Bantal, and Canuayan.

He encouraged other tribal leaders to support the government’s approach to solving the problem of peace and order.

“Until there are problems such as intrusion in the ancestral domain, the development will be hampered,” he said.

“The NPA should talk with the government and end the armed struggle since war is not the solution. If they see something wrong with the government's approach, let them correct it through dialogue,” he said.

The NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United Kingdom, the European Union, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines. (PNA)