Last nail to the coffin
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - August 14, 2019 - 12:00am

Tribal chieftains from the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples (IPs) Council of Elders and Leaders and from the Mindanao Indigenous People’s Youth Organizations paid a courtesy call at The Philippine Star editorial office in Port Area, Manila last Monday. They were accompanied by a staff member each of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).

We received at The STAR editorial office Datu Awing Apuga, Datu Joel Dahusay, Datu Nestor Apas, Bae Chiar Balinan, and Bae Magdalina Iligan. They are in the last leg of their government-sponsored information campaign that took them here in Metro Manila and all the way to the United States. They winded down their dialogue tours dubbed “Breaking the Silence, Telling the Truth” in a bid to correct what they deplored are the all-out disinformation campaign waged by communist rebels on the alleged Philippine military atrocities upon IPs.

They are part of the eight-man IP group that just concluded their US dialogue tours from June 28 to July 24 and touched base with various Filipino-American communities in five states. In the US, they met and discussed with three members of the US Congress about reports reaching them on purported atrocities inflicted upon IPs and their ancestral domains taken over by communist rebels. They met with American Congressmen, namely, Bobby Scott (Dem, 3rd district Virginia); Steve Chabot (Rep. 1st district Ohio); and TJ Cox (Dem., 21st district, California) who each received them in their respective offices at the US Congress.

Their mission though was obviously not so secret to the leftist groups here. They branded them as red-tagging vilification campaign against supposed communist fronts. The tribal chieftains are accused as government-paid agents who were rewarded with taxpayers’ money that paid for very expensive junket to the US.

But this was not the sense we got from our almost hour-long conversations with the tribal chieftains who each engaged us in narratives that I’ve heard for the first time in my life as a journalist based here in Metro Manila.

 As the eldest among the IP elders in that group, Datu Nestor introduced himself and the rest with brief stories of how each of them and their tribes have become victims of lies propagated by an ideology forced upon them and their children. Now 47 years old, Datu Nestor belongs to the IP tribe Langilan Manobo in Davao del Norte.

Datu Nestor was once an active member of one of the legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP). Belonging to a non-government organization (NGO) front of the communist groups, Datu Nestor recalled his active involvement that lobbied for the passage into law by the 10th Congress of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, or the IPRA Law for short. The IPRA under Republic Act (RA) 8371 was signed into law on Oct. 29,1997 during the term of former president Fidel V. Ramos. 

For his part, Datu Joel told us how he earned the ire of the communist insurgents for his refusal to give up teaching to IP children of their tribe. Now 38 years old, Datu Joel who belongs to the Matigtalomo in Davao del Norte swears no amount of NPA threats to kill him will stop him from his mission to teach their children about the opportunities of growth and development they could pursue.

But this is not what the NPA local leaders wanted them to teach the children. At their young ages, he rued, the IP children are instead being taught how to assemble guns and rifles, how to shoot and kill, and, how to make improvised explosive devices in the so-called “alternative school” put up by NPA rebels in the IP communities called as “Salugpungan” school.

Datu Awing shared the same story of how the NPA trained him and fellow young Ata Manobo in Davao del Norte to become “child warriors.” Now 26 years old, Datu Awing recalled when he was first taken in as “child warrior” at five years old. He left the NPA in 2018 after he learned from his fellow IPs who have gainfully rejoined their tribal communities out of the government’s peace program.

Among them is Bae Magdalina, now 30 years old, a Mamanwa Manobo from Surigao del Sur. She left the NPA folds in 2016, along with her husband, and availed of the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP). From this program, she disclosed, an NPA surrenderee gets to receive as much as P65,000 on top of additional financial assistance if he or she turns over their high-powered firearms.

Speaking of the CPP, their erstwhile chieftain Jose “Joma” Sison has apparently been constantly keeping in touch with his close contacts here in the Philippines even while he has remained in self-exile in the Netherlands. To the chagrin of President Duterte, the supposedly ailing Joma has been maintaining his unwanted omnipotence among communist insurgents here in our country.

At the wake of the late Zenaida Yap, widow of ex-Tarlac Governor/Rep. Jose “Apeng” Yap in their home at the Old Balara in Quezon City, the self-styled communist guru made his presence felt. Joma is a very close friend of the Yap family, especially the late Congressman Apeng Yap who once served as government negotiator during the bungled peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF during the Cory administration. 

President Duterte earlier sent floral wreath placed at one side along with that of Sen. Bong Go. At the other side stood the wreaths of Nationalist People’s Coalition founding chairman, businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco and SMC president Ramon Ang. Placed in the middle behind the casket was the red roses and red anthurium wreath of Joma.

Upon learning about President Duterte’s going to the wake, Joma’s wreath was hastily moved out of sight.

President Duterte has blamed Joma’s intransigent views that have been the stumbling block to any government peace initiatives to prosper.

The continuing NPA atrocities already drove the last nail to the coffin of the government’s latest peace initiatives with the communist groups.

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