DAVAO CITY – The National Democratic Front and a Protestant church formation in Mindanao want a stop on large-scale mining and military activities in indigenous areas such as in Talaingod, Davao del Norte. They also asked for the resumption of peace talks.
The plea was made by the United Methodist Church Eastern Mindanao Conference during their video conference on Wednesday with NDF peace panel chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni. The conference was also viewed via livestream by the Manobo evacuees and support groups in UCCP Haran Compound.
The Methodist Church Davao Episcopal Area in their pastoral statement urged both government and the NDF to resume talks.
“We strongly urge the President to intervene towards the attainment of a just and lasting peace over the land. We also call the GPH and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to resume the stalled peace talks to address these problems that affect innocent civilians,” they said.
Methodist Church leaders Bishop Ciriaco Francisco and the conference co-chair Reverend Camilo Balgona Jr and Vilma Ariola, raised that mining interests in the Manobo territory in the Pantaron Range, a rich-forest in the border of Davao del Norte and Bukidnon, was the reason for the recent military operations.
“It is apparent to the community leaders that there is a growing interest to mine in one of the remaining forest areas in Mindanao, the Pantaron Range that covers the mountains of Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, Davao City, Agusan Provinces. This Mountain range has been protected for 20 years because our indigenous brothers and sisters successfully defended their right to this land,” their statement read.
The Pantaron Mountain Range has been identified by biologists as one of the few remaining biodiversity corridors with old growth forests and hosts major Mindanao river systems such as the Pulangi River, Lasang and Davao River.
Mindanews reported as early as 2008 that various firms have applied for mining explorations in Bukidnon but were opposed by church and local officials. A government highway project also cuts through a portion of Pantaron, allegedly a farm-to-market road, but the Malabalay Diocese raised doubts saying the road is intended as a mining highway.
The Methodist Church also called on government to uphold human rights.
“We urge the Government to uphold the safety and dignity of all persons even in armed conflict, and ensure that humanitarian protection and basic food assistance, reach all victims, including those in the hinterlands,” they said.
NDFP peace panel chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni expressed support to the Manobos.
“They are now subjected to the most brutal militarization causing their renewed uprooting. They indeed deserve our strong solidarity,” he said.
Jalandoni said militarization and uprooting of communities have also been experienced by other communities such as the Cordillera people with the massacre of the Ligiw family in Abra, and other parts in Bicol and the Visayas.
“The policy of the Aquino regime to favor foreign destructive mining is carried out with brutal militarization,” said Jalandoni.
Jalandoni said the NDF has been open to the resumption of peace talks, particularly to address economic issues such as “destructive” mining and other policies that have affected indigenous peoples and the poor.
He revealed that there were proposals from the Royal Norwegian Government which facilitated the talks to hold informal talks on May in Oslo, Norway.
“The NDFP supports the Norwegian Government’s proposal for holding informal talks in Oslo in late May 2014. Peace advocate organizations in the Philippines and abroad also support the holding of such talks. The Aquino regime has not responded,” Jalandoni said.
The NDF negotiator said the revolutionary movement has been open to talks to “address the roots of the armed conflict, such as land reform and national industrialization, in order to achieve a just and lasting peace.”
Peace talks between government and the NDF was resumed by the Aquino government on February 2011. Both panels then agreed to work on the second substantive agenda known as the comprehensive agreement on socio-economic reforms (CASER).
In a previous statement, Jalandoni said the panel wanted to comply with the completion of the CASER in six months, but would like to include the issue of foreign mining and other issues affecting indigenous peoples, women, children and elderly.
“The NDFP is willing to target the completion of the CASER in six months. We propose to take up the issue of foreign destructive mining, the displacement of indigenous peoples and peasants, and destruction of their livelihood within four months. We can ask for the help of the Norwegian Refugee Council which has published a document on the Lumads. All other issues such as health, housing, and rights of women, children and elderly, to be included in the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, can be taken up within six months,” Jalandoni said.
The talks had been called off due to the arrests of NDF consultants which included the recent capture of Benito and Wilma (Austria) Tiamzon. The NDF and the government had then differed on the safety and immunity guarantee of consultants.
Another church group called Pilgrims for Peace also raised the call for peace talks.
“Even as the peace talks have been suspended for more than two and half years, human rights violations are increasing, poverty grips the majority of our people and hunger remains a grim reality that afflicts the poorest of all. These reasons are enough to compel peace advocates to push both panels to resume the peace talks,” said UCCP Reverend Homar Distajo, convenor of Pilgrims for Peace.
Jalandoni asked church groups and peace advocates to support the call for the resumption of talks and release of 15 NDF consultants and more than 400 political prisoners in compliance with past agreements.
“You can demand the resumption of peace talks between the NDFP and the Aquino government based on the binding past peace agreements,” he said. (davaotoday.com)