DAVAO CITY — Leaders of progressive groups from Mindanao said they talked with President Rodrigo Duterte about the agenda of the Lumads in Mindanao in a meeting the President called for them after he gave his first State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 25.
“We told the President about the demand of the Lumads to stop militarization and the disbandment of paramilitary groups,” said Sheena Duazo, spokesperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Southern Mindanao Region.
Duazo said Duterte guaranteed that through the declaration of the ceasefire, the Lumad evacuees in Mindanao can return to their communities safely.
She said Duterte also said that he they will be discussing the issue of the paramilitary groups.
“Through the ceasefire, Pres. Duterte guaranteed that the Lumads will be safe. With regards to the paramilitary, he said they will discuss it, although he recognize the presence of paramilitary in Mindanao),” Duazo said.
“The meeting was unexpected,” Duazo told Davao Today in a phone interview on Monday night.
She said the meeting was called when they were eating already at an eatery after Duterte gave his Sona. His special assistant, Christopher Go, called them up and asked where the leaders are and that they should proceed to meet the President in Batasan Complex. Duazo said she was with Reverend Jurie Jaime, convener of the Exodus for Justice and Peace; Bai Ali Indayla, Gabriela Women’s Party spokesperson in Mindanao; Kerlan Fanagel, chairperson of Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organizations; and Rius Valle, spokesperson of Save Our Schools Alliance.
“We had to walk for about more than a kilometer to go from Filinvest road to the Batasan Complex,” said Duazo.
Meanwhile, Fanagel said that unless Pres. Duterte orders the pull out of military troops and the disbandment of tribal militias, allegedly protected by the Army, “there is still no assurance for the safety of the Lumad evacuees.”He said during their meeting, the President mentioned about the role of the Army in the communities who will keep watch against the illegal loggers, miners and suspected personalities involved in drugs.
“Pero naa gihapon tay kabalaka tungod aning padayon nga nagakahitabo ng militarisasyon (But still we worry because of the continuing militarization),” Fanagel said.
What was clear during the meeting with the President was the relief and rehabilitation efforts for the evacuees, said Fanagel.
“He already gave a mandate to the Department of Social Welfare and Development to ensure the assistance for the return of the evacuees to their communities,” he said.
“There should be a clear government policy. If they will not pull out the military, they should pull out from the community, the houses, and schools,” he said.
But the groups said the meeting with Duterte was still positive “because he recognized the demands of the Lumads.”
The meeting was also attended by the secretary general of Bayan, Renato Reyes, Jr. who was approached by the police in Batasan.
In a statement, Bayan said Duterte also talked about “pursuing an independent policy free from any foreign dictate and why the PCA ruling on the West PH Sea was important.”
“He looked forward to concluding a peace agreement with the revolutionary forces so that more government resources can be allotted for social services,” said Duterte.
The group said they “welcome the commitment of President Duterte to pursue and achieve a just and lasting peace during his term.”
“His declaration of a unilateral ceasefire was roundly applauded inside and outside Batasan. The government ceasefire declaration should pave the way for the pull-out of the AFP from the Lumad communities, allowing the Lumad to return home,” the group said.
It said that the government’s ceasefire should result to a stop of military operations “targeting civilians in communities, including operations in line with the Whole of Nation Initiative under Oplan Bayanihan.”
“The filing of trumped-up changes in line with the counter-insurgency drive should also stop,” the group said.
Openness of the President
Reyes, Jr. who was the first to arrive in the meeting of the militant leaders with Duterte said they appreciate the gesture of the President.
“In all my years of joining street protests, I’ve never encountered a President who would ask after a rally, “Kamusta kayo? Nakalapit ba kayo?” (How are you? Were you able to get near (Batasan)?),” said Reyes in a Facebook post on Tuesday, July 26.
The rally of progressive groups was held only a few hundred meters away from Batasan Complex.
“We may have differences with this regime, even on fundamental issues, but there is no denying its openness in dealing with the people,” he said.
Reyes said their meeting started at 7:00 pm and ended at 8:30 pm.(davaotoday.com)