DAVAO CITY — Mounting offensives from both Armed Forces of the Philippines and the New People’s Army have escalated in the past weeks as the government peace panel snubbed proposals to re-open talks with the National Democratic Front.
The AFP’s 66th Infantry Battalion claimed some 80 NPA fighters held as “hostage” some 39 small-scale miners and some minors in Barangay Panamin, Mabini town of Compostela Valley last May 3 to 5.
The Army’s 1001st Brigade Commander Colonel Elmer Quiros said charges will be filed at the provincial prosecutor’s office of Compostela Valley for violation of the International Humanitarian Law against the NPA fighters belonging to Guerilla Front 2 and the Pulang Bagani Command 6.
But the NPA Comval Davao Gulf Sub Regional Command brushed off the allegation saying they were not even in the area. The NPA unit spokesperson Ka Daniel Ibarra said it was the 66th IB that threatened small scale miners and families to leave the area.
Ibarra said that soldiers resorted to this action after failing to neutralize the NPAs following the latter’s burning of mining equipment of Apex Mining in Maco.
“Failing to deter NPA’s tactical offensives, the AFP resorted to terror tactics and mounted the scripted tale of NPA hostaging last May 3-5. In truth, the 66th IB Commanding Officer called up tunnel owners to order small-scale miners and their families to vacate Tabun, Barangay Mahayahay, Maragusan town, Abaka and sitio Dasuran, Brgy. Golden Valley, Mabini–all mining communities in Compostela Valley. The same Army officer also warned them of shelling bombardment operations,” Ibarra said.
“The AFP’s forced evacuation and threat of bombing greatly terrified the masses, giving them no choice but to leave their homes and sources of livelihood. The AFP offensives also failed to defeat the Red Fighters, who were clearly not encamped in the mining community, but were somewhere else, far away from the civilian populace and gearing up for the next tactical offensive,” he added.
The NPA sub-regional command claimed they countered the AFP with an ambush of 11 soldiers from the 71st IB on May 5 in Brgy. Napnapan, Pantukan.
The NPA spokesperson added that the 1001st Brigade imposed a deadline to move out small-scale miners to clear areas for open pit mining operations in barangays Masara and Mainit, both places where deadly landslides were reported.
“The AFP-Apex tandem also deployed goons via Mongoose Security Agency to harass Apex workers. They also circulated a list of supposed active leaders targeted for arrest and incarceration,” Ibarra said.
Ibarra said it is in this mining-conflict area that the conflict has been intensified.
“In this current ongoing battle in the mining areas in the sub-region, we ask (AFP spokesperson) Maj. Tutaan, who is really using the human shield? The NPA perseveres in guerilla warfare and protects the masses, never using them as protective armor. It is the AFP which uses civilians as human shields under the pretext of peace and development activities in schools, chapels, village centers and other civilian structures,” he said.
While offensives have been escalating of late, the head of the government peace panel Alex Padilla brushed off proposals by the NDF to reopen the stalled peace talks.
In a forum with the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) in Manila last May 3, Padilla reportedly said he doubts the NDF sincerity for talking to media rather that opening through “proper channels”.
“It (statement) was given to the media. There is a difference. So, to us, it is mere propaganda,” Padilla added.
The PEPP urged both government and NDF panels to return to the peace table, but the government negotiator said they would want to return if tangible issues would be raised.
“Let’s talk about lessening the level of violence… Or any other thing that the NDF wanted to talk about but certainly, we don’t want to talk about what are the roots of social conflict, the basic ills of society and we can discuss it for the next 50 years and we will not arrive at the same conclusion,” Padilla said. “We want something identifiable, time-bound.”
At the same forum, Rey Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center and NDFP consultant said the government has for the first time registered reservations on the framework of the talks, calling the Hague Joint Declaration a document of “perpetual division.” (davaotoday.com)