BAGUIO CITY — Activists are “safe and secure” in Baguio City, Mayor Benjamin Magalong told the media during the joint Regional Peace and Order Council and Regional Development Council meeting on November 29 here in the city.

“That will not happen. I personally guarantee them (activists) that here in Baguio, you are safe and secured,” the mayor said when asked about his reaction to activists’ raising the alarm over the possible crackdown in the city.

Tongtongan ti Umili, in a statement, expressed concern over the creation of the City Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (TF-ELCAC). The group said that it would further shrink the democratic space instead of putting an end to the armed conflict.

They also expressed fear that attacks against activists in the city might escalate like what happened in Negros Occidental and Manila. From late October to early November this year, the police and military raided offices of progressive groups in Bacolod City and Manila. The authorities arrested and detained 62 activists from the separate incidents.

“We view this move by the City Government as futile in its intentions to end the “armed conflict,” and will instead further shrink our democratic space by criminalizing and targeting legitimate dissent,” the Tongtongan statement read.

Apart from assuring activists’ safety, Magalong, also said that his admistration is open to having a dialogue with leftist organizations.

Labeled by the military as a “white area,” the mayor said that there is a different approach here in the city. He added that the focus of the TF-ELCAC is in the 49 barangays the Philippine Army identified as influenced by the New People’s Army (NPA), which they call the “red area”.

“The focus here in the white area is to stretch out a hand of peace, that is why I’m inviting them to come over, nothing will happen to them here,” Magalong said.

Tongtongan pointed out that the creation of the task forces coincided with the entry of big foreign-funded projects forced down the throats of Filipinos. They mentioned that in Baguio, there are proposals from various corporations to put-up infrastructures and privatize public services. The group cited the build multi-level parking structures and the push for private contractors to take over the water and electricity services, transportation, and waste management.

The group added that in the Cordillera region, large foreign companies continue to force their way into indigenous people’s communities. Corporate interests, they said, include mining and energy projects that are detrimental to the people and the environment.

The formation of TF-ELCAC in various cities, towns, provinces, and regions in the country is according to Executive Order (EO) 70 of President Rodrigo Duterte. The directive institutionalized the “whole-of-nation approach” and created the task force.

However, progressive groups view EO 70 as a tool of the administration for its de facto Martial Law. They claim the order supplanted the authority of civilian offices and in effect, gave the military control over civilian undertakings.

Tongtongan reiterated that the best way to address the 50-year armed conflict is to pursue the peace negotiations between the Philippine Government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

TTU is the city chapter of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), which was among the organizations tagged by the government as a front of the communist rebels.

In February last year, the Department of Justice included former and current officers of CPA, who are residents of Baguio, in its petition to proscribe the CPP-NPA as terrorist organizations. The city council passed a resolution backing the accused individuals. They also urged the government to drop the names of the Baguio residents from the petition. # nordis.net

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