TAGUM, DAVAO DEL NORTE –- Davao del Norte Governor Edwin Jubahib and Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez Jr. led the turn-over here on Friday (Feb. 13) of immediate assistance packages to six indigenous peoples (IP) families who were rescued by the Davao del Norte provincial government from the Haran facility in Davao City early this month.
Jubahib lauded the 28 individuals who all belong to the Ata-Manobo tribe of Talaingod, Davao del Norte, for their courage to leave Haran where they have been held by the facility’s personnel since last year.
“We know that you want the government to help you – to give you a home and jobs so that all of you will be able to earn a decent living and lead peaceful lives,” Jubahib said in the vernacular as he addressed the victims comprised of men, women and children.
Years of exploitation
The Haran, which is being run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), gained prominence over the past several years for reportedly housing around 500 IPs coming from the provinces of Davao del Norte, Davao de Oro (formerly Compostela Valley) and Cotabato.
According to a former member of the New People’s Army-Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP-NPA) whose name has been withheld to ensure his security, the Haran is being used by the communist organization as a venue to indoctrinate and bring new members into their fold.
The once CPP-NPA member bared that this effort is part of the CPP-NPA’s strategy to discredit the government by making IP communities in Mindanao believe that it is “irrelevant” and is not doing anything to protect their rights and uplift their welfare. The CPP-NPA-NDF fronts have created a perception of the continuous oppression, militarization and government’s neglect of IPs.
From 2013 to 2015, he said the Reds launched a campaign called “Taktikang Bakwit” where it instructed leaders of the peasant group PAsakada-I, SAlugpongan, KAlimodan (PASAKA) to “influence, organize and recruit” members of IP communities.
In 2015, the ex-CPP-NPA cadre brought an estimated 700 IP members from Talaingod to the Haran. It was there where he established a Salugpungan school and began to indoctrinate the people on the communist ideology and eventually, convincing them to support the armed struggle.
Based on testimonies of the rescued victims, the living conditions in Haran were very difficult. The bunkhouses where they stayed were so small they slept like sardines. Food was also very limited and there were a lot of instances when they missed their meals.
Government’s focus on IP communities
“The allegations of the rebels that the IPs are being ignored, left out by the government, are all lies. You have now seen the kind of assistance the government provides to your communities,” Jubahib said.
“We in the provincial government have given what you have asked for – a new access road, potable water systems, electrification, schools so that your children can study. We will deliver all of these services to your communities,” he added.
In light of these efforts, Jubahib said that there is no longer any reason for the people to leave their families and join the armed rebellion, as he asked the rescued victims to help the government convince members of the rebel group to return to the folds of the law.
“We are therefore asking all of you to help in our campaign to convince our brother and sisters to go down the mountains so that they will receive assistance from the government,” he said.
The governor emphasized that it is the vision of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to finally put an end to the decades-long armed rebellion and bring enduring peace and sustainable development across the country.
“What President Duterte wants is to put an end to the armed rebellion because he no longer wants to see bloodshed. What he wants is to support and provide all your needs so that your lives will become better,” Jubahib said.
“We know that what you are asking for are very basic. You are not asking for mansions. What you would like is for your children to go to school, for you to be able to work, be able to plant in your ancestral domains, and be able to eat three times a day,” he added.
Expression of gratitude
Ata Manobo tribal leader Datu Gibang Apuga thanked the Davao del Norte provincial government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the assistance they have provided to the victims.
“We are very thankful to the provincial government and the military for helping my people,” Apuga said through an interpreter, adding, “The government has given us hope.”
According to the tribal leader the Haran has contributed to the insurgency problem in the country. This is the reason, he said, why he wants the IPs being held in the facility to be released and returned to their communities.
“All I want is for our community to have peace,” Apuga said.
In the meantime, Maj. Gen. Reuben Basiao, commander of the AFP’s 19thInfantry Division, stressed that the assistance provided by the provincial government to the rescued victims is a clear testament of its commitment to address the plight of the IPs.
“This is how sincere the government is in helping you. We hope that your decision to leave Haran will reach others and convince them to do the same,” Basiao said.
He promised the victims that the government will exhaust all means necessary so that the remaining IPs held in Haran will finally be released, saying, “We would like to make your families whole again.”
Have faith in government
Galvez, for his part, dispelled the allegations being peddled by the communist rebels, while assuring IPs that the government is working very hard to address the situation in their communities and more importantly, improve the economic well-being of residents there.
“The military is not your enemy. It will not do anything to harm you. They are there in your communities to protect you and ensure your security,” he said.
“It is also not true that the government has turned its back on the IPs. In fact, it is doing everything possible so that all our Lumad brothers and sisters can have a better and comfortable life,” Galvez added.
This is the reason, he explained, why the government is implementing the Whole-Of-Nation Approach under Executive Order No. 70, wherein there is now greater synergy among national line agencies in the delivery of programs, projects and services.
“Do not let the rebels destroy your faith in the government. Everything that the group is doing is meant to promote its own self-interest, and its twisted and outdated ideology,” Galvez said.
He pointed out that a lot of people have sacrificed their lives in the belief that armed rebellion is the only way to address the problems they were confronting, adding that “it is time to put an end to this kind of mindset.”
Galvez called on the rescued victims to help the government convince those who are still staying in Haran to leave the facility and start a new life, as they have the power in their hands to change their current conditions for the better.
He also committed to help provide jobs for IPs in the province through the PAMANA Program, citing the successful experience of the Cordillera Bodong Administration-Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CBA-CPLA), a CPP-NPA rejectionist group.
Aside from hundreds of CBA-CPLA members being integrated into the Armed Forces of the Philippines, 500 of them have been by the hired Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as forest rangers who have been tasked to take care of our remaining forest and protected areas.
Galvez said the IPs in Davao del Norte can also benefit from the same program, as he vowed to work closely with the provincial government and DENR and contribute to the National Greening Program.
He likewise thanked the provincial government of Davao del Norte led by Gov. Jubahib for prioritizing the needs of IPs in the province, and for serving as a good example for other local government units to follow.
Decent Housing for IPs
Just recently, OPAPP and DSWD through PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn (PAMANA) provided three hundred (300) housing units and a multi-purpose tribal center to residents of indigenous peoples (IP) communities in the town of Kapalong in Davao del Norte.
With a total cost of Php 53 million, the PAMANA-funded infrastructure projects were built through the DSWD’s Modified Shelter Assistance Program, and will benefit the people of Sitio Kapatagan and Sitio Kimataan in this municipality known for its thriving agriculture sector.
For this year, the OPAPP, together with its partner line agencies, will implement P1.7-billion worth of projects this year which aim to uplift the well-being of people residing in conflict-affected communities throughout the country.
“The Duterte Administration will remain by your side as you work towards providing a better life and creating a brighter future for your people,” Galvez said.###