Different tribes in Mindanao are preparing to wage war against communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in retaliation for atrocities committed by the armed guerillas.
Indigenous peoples’ (IP) groups are preparing to hold a ritual called pangayaw, performed by a warrior chief before going to a war, prior the start of the campaign.
Civilian death toll in tribal lands in Mindanao is rising due to infiltration from the NPA, Presidential Adviser for Indigenous Peoples’ Concerns Allen Capuyan said during a House hearing last Wednesday.
Various IP leaders have complained against continuing NPA atrocities, Capuyan said.
During the hearing of the House Committee on Indigenous Cultural Communities and IP, Mindanao IP Council of Elders (MIPCEL) chairman Datu Joel Unad supported claims that the so-called Lumad schools, Salugpungan and Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), have turned into breeding grounds of the NPA.
“We cannot deny that these schools, ALCADEV, Salugpungan, these are the schools to build up (members) of CPP-NPA. The learning outputs that they study are far different from those taken up in regular schools,” Unad said.
Capuyan narrated he had informed Education Secretary Leonor Briones about the NPA incursions in IP communities.
Briones told him they could not cancel the schools as it was the local government units that are responsible for them.
“The problems of IP in Mindanao reached a point that is even beyond their comprehension and imagination that they cannot solve it unless all of them declare pangayaw all over Mindanao. It has reached a point that almost every day a person is killed,” Capuyan said.
In a presentation of the Office of the President during the hearing, around 1,580 or 39 percent of the total nationwide CPP-NPA manpower of 3,996 was composed of IP in 2017.
“An estimated 60 to 70 percent of the 1,933 total CPP-NPA force in Mindanao are IP,” he added.
From 2015 to 2017, more than 23 tribal leaders were reported to have been killed for going against communist terrorist groups in their areas.
IP communities have been converted by the NPA into guerilla bases, using these areas as safe havens for hideouts and encampments.
Capuyan disclosed young IP are often recruited as child combatants through the so-called schools.
A former IP student recruit from the Salugpungan school revealed the Abakada, or the Filipino alphabet, has other imbued meanings perpetuated by the NPA: A for armas (arms), Ba for bala (bullets), and Ka for kaaway (enemy), referring to the military and government.
Students are also taught how to use firearms as part of their eventual recruitment to the NPA and are being made to sing the subversive version of the National Anthem “Lupang Hinirang.”
Unad attested that the NPA-run schools indoctrinated the young IPs into the communist struggle.
“We cannot deny that schools, such as ALCADEV and Salugpungan, are breeding grounds being used to build up the CPP-NPA. Their learning outputs are different from regular schools,” he said.
Samar also affected
The presence of NPA in Northern Samar had discouraged contractors from implementing multimillion-peso infrastructure projects meant for impoverished and conflict-stricken communities, a regional official of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) confirmed on Thursday.
Imelda Bonifacio, OPAPP program manager for Eastern Visayas, said construction firms have abandoned at least three projects for fear of the NPA’s extortion activities and of being caught in the crossfire between government troops and armed rebels.
Citing reports from the Philippine Army, communist rebels have asked contractors to allocate 10 percent of the project cost to the NPA movement or else face the consequence of attacks.
“The mere report of their presence discourages implementers to pursue the projects. These areas are critical and they are scared of being a victim of crossfires as there are continuing operations in these areas,” Bonifacio said.
Minors back to parents
The parents of the 12 minors who were in the company of former Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Satur Ocampo in the Davao del Norte town of Talaingod have taken custody of their children following a court order.
Amid tensions during the three-hour hearing on habeas corpus for the minors on Wednesday, the parents and children hugged and held each other inside the sala of Judge Glenn Aquino, who ordered the Department of Social Welfare and Development to release the children.
In an interview outside the courtroom, Coray Ebodan, a village leader in Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, said the parents and their children wanted to go straight to their hometown and not anywhere else.
Ebodan said he was worried the parents and the children might be taken to UCCP Haran where some of the members of the Ata-Manobo tribes have stayed since 2016.