Stakeholders push for local peace initiatives in Bukidnon

MALAYBALAY CITY (BukidnonNews.Net / 05 February) – Peace talks, including initiatives for dialogues at the local level, must be pursued to attain peace in the communities, stakeholders said in their responses to Bukidnon 2018: Public Outlook Series on peace and security.

Malaybalay Bishop Jose A. Cabantan, a peace advocate, said the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) should resume talking peace. But he stressed that peace talks are not only for the two parties to decide as there are other stakeholders.

“At stake are us here (in the local communities), we are the first ones who are affected,” he said in an interview on January 31.

He said each party must show sincerity and should also involve other sectors who are involved in the conflict, including the victims of atrocities.

President Rodrigo Duterte called off in November 2017 the peace talks with the NDF, and in December declared the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as “terrorists”. But he did not disband his peace panel and said what will make him return to the negotiating table is “for them (CPP-NPA-NDF) to go lower” because they are “masyadong hambug” (so arrogant).

Cabantan said largely affected are the indigenous peoples who are pitted against each other by being involved in either side of the conflict.

“It is so sad that they are against each other in war when they can sit down and contribute in a dialogue to help address the problems,” he added.

He said he discussed with some tribal leaders the possibility of using their traditional way of settling disputes. But he recognized it’s not easy because there are external factors.

“The IPs are mostly the casualties from both sides. If this will continue, it will create more destructions and violence. Instead, there should be dialogue to find the cause of our troubles,” he added.

The bishop said local peace initiatives will ensure that the situation on the ground is being discussed by local stakeholders.

“We support local peace initiatives that are not dependent on what’s done above. Up there is only talks, the more concrete things are on the ground,” he said. He added that even if both parties do not embrace local peace talks, the more that there should be local peace initiatives.

He said discussions on socio-economic reforms are very important in obtaining peace because “unless there is genuine development on the ground, there will be no peace and justice”.

Duterte issued Proclamation 360 on November 23, two days before the peace talks were to resume in Norway on November 25 to 27 to deliberate on the common drafts on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER).

But he terminated the peace negotiations, claiming that “in spite of the best efforts exerted by this Administration, the NDF-CPP-NPA failed to show its sincerity and commitment to pursuing genuine and meaningful negotiations as it engaged in acts of violence and hostilities, endangering the lives and properties of innocent people.”

Cabantan said talks on CASER are key to peace, adding the Church believes “integral human development is the road to peace”.

He said a parallel discussion on CASER at the local level should be pursued considering the circumstances from one community to another.

“There should be consultations among churches, grassroots and local government units to give people an opportunity to talk and listen to one another,” he added.

He said peace is the total well-being of the person and the community and is based on justice.

“Justice is having right relationships – when we regard each other as brothers and sisters who can talk about what the cause of our troubles is,” he said.

He said many of those who joined the rebels did so because they wanted out of poverty and injustice. “They also aspire for peace. Everybody aspires for peace.”

Datu Sangkuan Jemuel Perino, tribal chieftain of the Bukidnon Umayamnon Tribe Kapoonan To Mga Datu in Cabanglasan town, said the government should pursue peace process with the rebels but should consult people on the ground.

He cited that peace and security is among the top three issues tackled in the Indigenous Peoples Mindanao Conference Committee of holders of Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title in Mindanao. The other two issues are violations of the free and prior informed consent (FPIC) and livelihood opportunities.

Perino, a core group member of the committee, appealed to both parties to keep the ancestral domains as zones of peace and for the monitoring of the compliance with the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

“We’re not involved in the conflict. I hope we would not get hit,” he said, adding some IP leaders were allowed to sit in the stalled peace talks between the government and the NDF.

But Perino lamented the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process’s relocation of rebel returnees in their ancestral domains. He said the decision did not undergo the FPIC process, although meetings have been set to address the issue.

Bukidnon Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. in an interview said even if it seems that an all-out war has become the impending solution, he still believes in peace talks.

“I want peace talks. I am in favor of the resumption of peace talks. But this time, I hope there will be sincerity, that both parties really want peace talks,” he said.

Zubiri was mum when asked about prospects of local peace talks but said he continues to help address the economic problems as among the root causes of the conflict through the provincial government’s programs.

Gaudioso Balansag, provincial chapter chair of the Kapisanan ng Mgra Brodkaster ng Pilipinas said he is hopeful that peace will be restored in the province.

Samuel Langub, city information officer of Valencia City said he hopes there will be peace in the province in 2018.

Dr. Lourdes G. dela Torre, an educator and peace advocate said peace is also needed to secure investments in the province.

“Therefore a more strict peace and order enforcement strategy is at hand,” she added.

Cabantan said he hopes peace won’t remain elusive in Mindanao and the whole country.

“That we live not in a ‘make believe’ situation that everything is normal with Martial Law (it seems that there is no Martial Law),” he said.

“Why is there a need for it then?” he asked.

Engr. Winnie Angit, coordinator of the Kitaotao municipal planning and development office said lasting peace is a catalyst and the foundation of development.

He wished the rebels and “terrorists” will talk with government to achieve lasting peace. (Walter I. Balane)

[BUKIDNON 2018: PUBLIC OUTLOOK SERIES is a community journalism project that seeks to provide space for the public to speak up on the future of the province in 2018. The editorial team sent text messages and sought interviews with random sources from different sectors in the province from December 25 to 28, 2017. The responses were consolidated and categorized thematically and then used as bases for stories in these pieces. React to waltzib@gmail.com.]