By CORDILLERA HUMAN RIGHTS ALLIANCE
Oplan Kapayapaan (Operation Plan Peace) by the Duterte government has sown terror in the Cordillera region, as with the rest of the country. Peace has become more elusive with Oplan Kapayapaan, which is essentially a continuation of Oplan Bayanihan and other national internal security programs in the past.
Since the February declaration of the all-out war against the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and the New People’s Army (NPA), military combat operations in the region and in the country heightened. The Cordillera region became a target of the AFP to “flatten the hills”.
The conduct of war of State security forces has consistently violated human rights and international humanitarian law in all of the Philippine government’s national internal security policies and programs. Their tactics constantly involve attacks on civilians. The enactment of different human rights and international humanitarian laws has not ensured the departure of national internal security programs and policies from Martial Law tactics and has not ensured the utmost need for the protection of civilians.
From February – March, there were thirteen cases of illegal arrest and detention. These include the cases of five residents in Malibcong (including a minor) and Kalinga, and Sarah Abellon-Alikes, a Kankanaey, who hails from Mountain Province on February 9.
Militarization, implemented by the AFP Northern Luzon Command, intensified in the Cordillera resulting to a week of forced evacuation in Namal, Ifugao, indiscriminate air strikes using phosphorus bombs in Malibcong, Abra that accompanied ground operations by the 24th IBPA under the 7th Infantry Division and heavy military operations by the 50th IBPA in Kalinga where cases of violations include the divestment and destruction of properties, and the physical assault of civilians and barangay officials.
All the State-perpetrated violations of human rights and international humanitarian laws have been condemned by the people, thus the call for their pull-out from ancestral domains.
The people in Namal were asked pointblank by the 54th IBPA soldiers, “Apay nu soldado ket mabutteng kayo, nu NPA ket saan? Dakami ti pagsanggiran yo.” (Why do you fear soldiers and not the NPA? You should side with us.) Two residents responded to them saying, “Haan met nga ipatpatturong ti NPA kenyami ti paltog da kas aramid yo.” (The NPA do not train their guns on us unlike what you soldiers do.)
Terror is not the only effect of the all-out war. It also struck the livelihood of the people. In Ifugao, the weeklong evacuation came at a time when the farmers were preparing the rice seedlings for transplanting. The week’s delay is expected to result to a 40% reduction from the expected harvest. Given that the produce in the municipality is not even enough for their basic consumption and that the villages are still reeling from the effect of the “kamote disease” for their sweet potatoes, further hunger looms for the people. In Abra, farming was disrupted since the indiscriminate bombings between the boundaries of Sitio Putol, Sitio Matalibeng, and Bangilo last March 16, 2017. Rice fields and swidden farms, the people’s main source of livelihood, are unattended. Economic activity has been hampered because of fear. Residents are forced to stay inside the community without assurance that food for their families will be available the next day.
People have lived with the existence of war for a very long time with the imposition of peace as “silenced guns”. This does not reflect the reality of why a war is existent and how the people define peace.
The last round of peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the NDFP was a triumph against peace saboteurs, as earlier agreements including the Hague joint Declaration and the Comprehensive Agreement on respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) were affirmed including the need to release all political prisoners and prisoners of war, and as the talks were drawn back to the discussion of the roots of the civil war and not simply the definition of a bilateral ceasefire. The bilateral talks on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) are to commence on April 20, 2017 in the Philippines in preparation for the fifth round of talks on May 26 – June 2 in Norway.
The peace talks are at a point when the people are compelled to assert their rights and welfare.
Peace for the people means to be able to have food on their table for three square meals a day, to be able to develop, to work and be a productive part of society, to be able to go about their daily activities in an environment that guarantees their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness and development.
The work for peace lies in the people’s hands.
As Sr. Alice M. Sobrevinas, OSB, member, Presidium for the GRP-NDFP Joint Consultation in the Cordillera, aptly said in 2011, “Peace begins when the hungry are fed and when the thirst for justice is quenched. Genuine peace is only possible in a society where justice is nurtured by the dignity felt by every human being – free from poverty, cynicism, violations and other evils borne out by greed and the insatiable crave for power.” # nordis.net