Army official accuses Lumads of conniving with rebels; tribal leader: “where were you?”

MALAYBALAY CITY (Bukidnon News/ 01 February)– About 2,500 Lumads under 13 tribal leaders are working with the New People’s Army in southern
Bukidnon, Col. Romeo Gapuz, commander of the 403rd Brigade, here told the Bukidnon Sangguniang Panlalawigan Wednesday in his update on the military’s
pursuit of the rebels.

Gapuz said the indigenous peoples served as mass support for the
rebels making it more difficult for them to curb insurgency.

He cited a claim of a tribal chieftain in San Fernando town he named
as Datu Onkit, who facilitated the surrender of former rebel Benjamin
Salusad last year.

Salusad, along with 79 other alleged NPA members surrendered to the
8th Infantry Battalion in Maramag town on Nov. 15. They turned in 25
high-powered firearms.

Only 31 of the rebel returnees were said to be full-time combatants and 49
were members of the Milisya ng Bayan (People’s Militia). Seventy of
them were males. The returnees belong to the Tigwahanon, Matigsalog
and Manobo tribes of San Fernando.

Gapuz told the provincial board there are only about 60 to 80 armed
rebels in the southern Bukidnon under the Guerilla Front 6 and
Guerilla Front 53 of the NPA. He added that the Lumads serve as their
mass-base.

However, board member Roelito Gawilan, a Matigsalug chieftain who
represents the association of barangay councils in the board, refuted
Gapuz pronouncement.

“The Lumads serve as no mass-base for the rebels. They have no
alliance with the NPA,” he added.

He said the Lumads were forced to deal with the rebels because the
NPA are the one’s who reach them in their remote areas.

“The IPs live in the mountains. Government projects and services did
not reach them. They seldom see the police and the military there,” he
added.

He said the Lumads give in to the rebels who allegedly employ
intimidation and sow fear.

Gawilan also cited that some Indigenous Peoples leaders are even in
the NPA hit list.

He cited that his barangay, Sinuda in Kitaotao town, has become a venue
of NPA attacks including the abduction of the Bureau of Jail
Management and Penology officials, the burning of cargo trucks,
illegal drugs trade, and even sale of fake gold bars.

Gawilan blamed lack of visibility of the peace and order and security
personnel on the attacks.He has called for more government projects
and police or military
visibility in the Lumad’s areas.

In December, Gawilan decried that the indigenous peoples in Bukidnon
have been caught in the crossfire in the fighting between the military
and the communist New People’s Army. He accused both parties to have
not recognized and respected the rights of the lumads over their
ancestral domain.

Gawilan, also chief of the Federation of Matigasalug, Manobo Tribal
Council Association (Femmatrics) and ex-officio member of the Bukidnon
provincial board, said his people suffered from both parties’ abuses.

“This (being caught in the crossfire) is a dilemma for the indigenous
peoples,” he said during the session where he was questioned by Vice
Gov. Jose Ma. Zubiri.

Gawilan explained that a lumad who suffered from one party’s abuses
would go to the other party for revenge.

He cited Salusad’s case who he said suffered abuses from the military,
the reason he went to the NPA. Salusad eventually went back to the
folds of the government.

Gawilan said the never-ending battle between the military and the
rebels caught them unfairly as victims.

“Where is the peace process if you don’t recognize and respect the
rights of the indigenous peoples on their ancestral domains?” he said.

To the NPA, he said they should no longer enter the Lumads’ ancestral domains.

But Gawilan said it is actually the military that is triggering the
increase in the number of people siding with the rebels.

Gapuz has appealed for the help of the different sectors in pursuing
the rebels. He also asked that the provincial board approve the
memorandum of agreement between the provincial government and the
Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to
help them in their program for rebels returning to the folds of law.

The provincial board scheduled to tackle the MOA today but Vice Gov. Zubiri said
there were some more clarifications needed in the latest draft they
received as of Wednesday afternoon. (Walter I. Balane)

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