From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 17): Sierra Madre tribe to AFP, NPA: Leave us alone
A group of indigenous people living on a mountain range that has become a battleground in the counterinsurgency campaign called on government soldiers and communist rebels to spare its ancestral land from clashes.
Ramcy Astoveza, Agta tribe chieftain, said that while his people welcomed the government declaration of a one-month holiday truce in its offensive against the New People’s Army (NPA) and expected the NPA to reciprocate, his tribe just wanted to be left in peace.
Astoveza said what the tribe really wanted was for soldiers and rebels to spare communities of Agta in the Sierra Madre mountain range from fighting.
“What we desire is for a total stop to any form of violence from both of them,” Astoveza said.
“What we want is total peace in Sierra Madre,” he said.
On Monday, President Aquino approved a unilateral ceasefire with the rebels to begin shortly before Christmas (Dec. 19) and end on the day Pope Francis leaves the country after a four-day visit (Jan. 19, 2015).
Astoveza said the Agta people should not be caught in the crossfire of the counterinsurgency campaign but the construction of military camps in their midst was driving the tribal folk into the middle of the war.
The military has defended the camp inside the ancestral land of the Agta tribe, saying its presence there was approved by the landowner.
The camp, according to Maj. Angelo Guzman, public information officer of the Armed Forcesí Southern Luzon Command, “is relatively far from the (Agta) community.”
But Astoveza said the camp, though on a land owned by a lowlander, was still inside a tribal community.
“We’re peace-loving people. Our children are not used to seeing persons with guns,” he said.
This training dubbed “Young Legislator’s Camp, with the Theme; Bridging Unity among Mindanaoans through the Bangsamoro Basic Law” was organized jointly by the office of Anak Mindanao Partylist Representative Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman and the Office of the Provincial Vice Governor headed by Keemhar Jay R. Sakkalahul, John Mark G. Fojas, focal person of the youth camp program said.
Mr. Fojas also said that the purpose of the gathering is to familiarize young leaders with the nitty-gritty of parliamentary system in preparation for the Bangsamoro Government in 2016 and beyond.
Prof. Emmauel S. Quizo of the Ateneo De Zamboanga University discussed Parliamentary Procedure while Prof. Ahmad Y. Al-Amin of Basilan State College representing the Yakan City Committee of the MILF presented and discussed the salient provisions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by way of power point presentation.
Prof. Al-Amin briefly explained the preamble, name and purpose of BBL, the core territory, the System of Bangsamoro Government including the three distinctive powers (reserved, concurrent and the exclusive). He also discussed revenue generations by the Bangsamoro and the process of sharing them between the Central and the Bangsamoro government. The block grant and the special development fund for the new region were also discussed by Prof. Al-Amin.
Mr. Fojas moderated the open forum and advised the young leaders to address their queries and concerns to the chairman. One participant asked, “Why ARMM is going to be replaced by Bangsamoro government? What is the assurance that the latter is better than the new political entity”?
Prof. Al-Amin answered and quoted President Benigno Aquino’s remarks made during the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on October 15, 2012, that the “ARMM is a failed experiment”.
All other questions, doubts, and concerns of the participants were intelligently answered by Prof. Al-Amin, a respected academician.