Sagada urges NPA, gov’t to respect ‘peace zone’

>> Saturday, June 16, 2018

By Gina Dizon 

SAGADA, Mountain Province – Officials and residents urged warring forces of government and communist rebels to respect this tourist town as a “peace zone,” following the June 5 clash here of the two groups wherein a cop was killed while nine others were wounded.  
This, as Chief Supt. Rolando Nana, regional police director gave medals of bravery to nine injured policemen and to one killed in action during the encounter between elements of the Regional and Provincial Public Safety Team against  elements  of the New People’s Army at the boundaries of Sagada and Besao at Mt. Masini.  
Given medals for bravery were wounded Supt Joseph B. Cayat, PO3 Wilfred Manacnis, POI Aldrin C. Bocalan, POI Clarence D. Abuan, POI Antolin D. Potpoten, POI Xander M. Depnag, POI Jake B. Paat, POI Yasser L. Guzman, PO2 Regie Palome and a posthumous  bravery medal  to PO2 Henry Dion who died during the June 5 encounter.  
In Sagada, Aguid Councilor Joseph Patil-ao said civilians are the ones who suffer due to the war between government and elements of the New People’s Army. In a press conference here called by the municipal local government.
Peace advocate and Sagada indigenous peoples mandatory representative Jaime Dugao and Sagada municipal mayor James Pooten Jr. appealed to warring forces of the Communist Party of the Philippine- NPA- National Democratic Front and the AFP-Government of the Republic of the Philippines go back to the negotiatsing table and talk peace.
President Rodrigo Duterte had called for resumption of peace talks between the two warring forces.
Aquid, in the northern part of Sagada and Besao municipality, has witnessed bloody encounters leading to the death of AFP, NPA and PNP elements through the years within the territories of the barangay and boundaries.  
PO2 Henry Dion was killed while nine others were wounded in Aguid June 5 in a clash between elements of Regional Public Safety Battalion and Provincial Public Safety Company of the Philippine National Police and Leonardo Pacsi Command.
The Masini trail, site of the encounter, leads to Tubo, Abra; Gueday Besao and leads to  the boundaries of Buasao watershed where the controversial Buasao domestic and irrigation waters are located. 
The trail is a common way where cattle raisers, farmers, guides, tourists walk including elements of the AFP, NPA and PNP who pass during anti-insurgency and peace keeping operations.
It is a site that falls within the peace zone and tourist town of Sagada and adjacent Besao.
This, as Presidential Assistant for Peace Process (OPPAP) peace consultant for Cordillera and former Sagada Mayor Tom Killip said urged the media to be more accurate in reporting such incidents saying the June 5 encounter was reported as having happened in Mt. Sisipitan, Aguid.
In said press conference, Patil-ao said the site happened at sitio Amdakoog within Masini ridge within the boundaries of Aguid, Sagada and Gueday Besao.  Sisipitan as reported earlier is an adjacent mountain near Masini towards the direction of Aguid.
Sagada was unilaterally declared as a demilitarized zone in 1989 by the town folks following the death of three children from the community, one caught in the crossfire between the NPA rebels and AFP within Poblacion and two shot by drunken government soldiers within the market compound of Sagada in late 1988.
A letter on Nov. 8, 1988 from the people of Sagada led by the people’s town officials, church authorities, and town’s folks was sent to both the AFP and the NPA calling for immediate ceasefire and demilitarization meaning, pull out of all armed groups to include no operations, no detachments, no patrols, no harassments on civilian population, and no carrying of firearms inside the territory of Sagada.
Barely three days after the letter was sent to the AFP and NPA, 12 year old Ben Tumapang Jr. was shot on Nov. 11, 1988, the bullet not established where it came from whether from a machine gun of a government soldier or an NPA when both armed groups had a clash near Sagada Central School in the town’s central area.
          A resolution from the people was further forwarded in Feb. 10, 1989 calling for Sagada to be a designated area for peaceful negotiations and venue for  medical treatment and safe conduct for all wounded.
          Sagada as a peace zone was eventually recognized in 1993 by Senate in a resolution forwarded by Sen. Rodolfo Biazon which identified Sagada as a special development area along with six other SDAs in the country, and each area allotted a P5 million development fund allotted for waterworks.
The demilitarization of the place tells that any member of the AFP or NPA can enter the community as long as he/she is not armed.  Stories take note of basketball having been played between elements of NPA and the AFP in earlier years following the declaration of Sagada as a demilitarized zone.
Incidents however proved the occurrence of bloody fights between the two warring forces as years unfolded.  
Violations have been noted including the 1991 bombing by the AFP on Mount Sisipitan in the northern Barangay of Aguid, the 2006 ambush of NPA rebels on AFP soldiers in Pegew, Antadao, and the AFP presence in Lake Danum, Mount Ampakaw and Sitio Lasig in the recent months of 2013; the November 30, 2014 ambush  and death of two PNP elements  in Pegew, Antadao following an educational session with  high school students of Sagada; and the recent June 5, 2018 encounter  in the boundaries of  Sagada and Besao.
The peace zone of 1989 was reiterated in a resolution of northern barangay officials following the August 30, 2013, bombing of AFP within the watershed environs of northern barangay of Aguid in their attempts to capture NPA rebels.
Peace Zone
The peace zone is a security blanket for the people of Sagada to be conscious in preventing armed combatants from entering the town, conducting armed encounters and disrupting social and economic activities of town folks. 
Peace advocate Tom Killip says that the Sagada peace zone though should be asserted.
And for repeated assertions, Sagada kept telling both warring forces to keep out from Sagada. 
The Sagada Sangguniang Bayan, in a 2013 resolution asked the AFP the military pull out from Lake Danum wants to ensure the safety of hundreds of high-school students who participated in the recent Provincial Jamboree December 12 to 15, 2013.
The Sangguniang Bayan too in their recent resolution condemned the June 5, 2018 incident.
Patil-ao during the press conference identified resolutions northern barangays had gone through the years not to let and entertain any armed element in their northern territory.
Fidelisan villagers in February 2008 forwarded their resolution letting concerned authorities know that they didn’t want NPAs or government military soldiers stopping by their homes to rest or eat. They called on 5th ID commanding General Rommel Gomez for the immediate pullout of the military.
Villagers of the northern barangays of Fidelisan, Pide, Aguid, Bangaan, and Madongo also forwarded a petition calling for the demilitarization of their communities in 2010. Experience of the people tell of their hesitance tending to their farms on the presence of both armed groups for fear of being caught in cross fires or get harassed.
The northern folks of Aguid through their barangay officials passed an ordinance banning the presence and activities of NPA and other lawless armed elements in the barangay. Said ordinance enacted in June 7, 2015 called for the protection, security and peaceful living and working environment of the residents of Aguid, and not to provide food or feed or shelter or participate in the activities advocated or supported by the NPAs and other lawless elements. 
              Aguid barangay captain Domingo Kelly is emphatic in saying, “haan kuma nga agi idyan dagiti soldado iti ayan ti ili karkaru iti ayan ti danum”.  (Armed men should not stay inside the community especially near water sources).
During said press conference, Patil-ao said NPA elements were earlier spotted in a water spring a week before the June 5 encounter so community folks told them to move out. 
The peace zone is frowned upon and ignored by both armed groups from the government armed forces military and the NPAs.
No less than former President and General Fidel Ramos then the Secretary of the Department of National Defense (DND) considers a peace zone prevents hot pursuit of rebel forces and upholds their belligerency. 
The pronouncement of Major Gen. Catapang, then Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) chief said that that there never was a peace zone in Sagada.
Current PNP Provincial Director Allen Ocden in a recent press conference questions the parameters of a peace zone.
This, as a question was asked during the press conference why the PNP were in the subject  area.  
             A statement from the Leonardo Pacsi Command of the NPA said “the June 5 ambush is a message to all police personnel in combat and intelligence units and operations and all AFP combat units entering our areas”.
Chief Superintendent Rolando Nana, Police Regional Office Cordillera director sees the peace zone in a friendly way. In his message to the Regional Peace and Order Council, he said ways should be done to maintain and strengthen Sagada as a peace zone.
The northern barangays have been a recipient of OPAPP’s peace fund through its PAMANA  program with P15 million having been infused in this part of the town for farm to market roads in 2015.
Killip noted the need for further government support to improve road networks in the northern part of town.
War is a social and economic disruption. As noted during the June 5 incident, recovering  the wounded and dead casualties takes off work from people. For a number of times when war incidents happened in the northern part of the town place, social and economic disruption happened to help out in recovery operations.
And for June 5 when the people of northern Sagada had to observe their ‘ubaya’ (cultural rest day) where people shall not work in the fields and for guides not to bring tourists to Bomod-ok Falls and in mountains, the day instead have to be devoted to responding on the results of the incident.  
Northern folks were aided by Sagada institutions including barangay and municipal units, PNP, Rural Health Unit, Municipal disaster and risk reduction management council, guide organizations including Bangaan Fidelisan Tanulong Aguid Madongo Pide Guides Association (BFTAMPGA) Sagada Environmental Guides Association (SEGA), Sagada Genuine Guides Association (SAGGAS), and Sagada Ethnic Guides Organization (SETGO) in the recovery operations.
Even neighboring folks and offices from Besao has been ready responders in the June 5 incident. Health officer Geraldine Alangui from Sagada RHU noted folks from Besao also helped in the recovery operations and where the nine wounded police were immediately sent to St Theodore’s Hospital (STH) for treatment and referred to Luis Hora Memorial Hospital in Bauko.
As noted, folks and institutions from neighboring municipalities cannot ignore war incidents that happen in towns near them. 
In a separate interview, Killip looks forward to other municipalities of the Province to do similar moves of declaring their respective towns as peace zones.  
It shall be recalled that former governor Leonard Mayaen called for Mountain Province to be declared a peace zone. This however was met with opposing responses from municipalities that were consulted.
Peace as seen by the CPP-NPA-NDF on the other hand is “not simply the absence of war. Genuine peace can only be realized when the people attain social justice.”


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