DAVAO CITY – Tribal leaders from across Mindanao on Monday vowed to keep the New People’s Army (NPA) out of their ancestral lands in response to the call of support by President Rodrigo Duterte to end the communist insurgency.
Bai Pilar Libayao, the Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR) of Talaingod town, Davao del Norte, said they would fight a "bloodless war" against the NPA that focuses on bringing development on tribal lands.
During a press conference attended by scores of tribal leaders from the Davao Region, Libayao made it clear they did not want violence in keeping with the President's earlier statement that he had no intention to arm the Indigenous Peoples (IP) communities.
Libayao said they simply want to restore peace in their lands, educate their youths, and lead a life according to their customary practices.
Libayao also chided the NPA, which she said has long been sowing division among the tribal communities, often with violent results.
“Magsuporta mi sa Presidente kay gusto namo nga hapsay among lugar (We will support the President because we want our place to be peaceful),” she added.
Datu Guibang Apoga, the tribal leader who helped establish Salugpungan schools in tribal areas, said tribal members who are NPA combatants should return home and live in peace with their families.
Apoga led the tribal resistance group Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon (Unity for the Defense of Ancestral Lands), for 28 years before surrendering to the government in June this year.
The military described the group as allied with the NPA.
Apoga now wants all Salugpungan out of their ancestral lands.
Lipatuan Joel Unad, chairman of the Mindanao IPs Conference for Peace and Development (MIPCPD), said the tribal leaders are one in supporting the President.
However, he said the government should continue to help IP communities by bringing development in their areas.
“Dapat total development ihatag diha sa ground. Buhaton namo ang matag plano (It should be total development on the ground. We will help implement each plan),” Unad said.
According to Unad, 95 percent of the NPA are members of the different tribes in Mindanao. Even the teachers of Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanogon schools in Mindanao are majority Mansaka and Dibabawon tribes, he added.
During the groundbreaking for the Davao Water Bulk Project in Gumalang here last week, President Duterte asked Unad and the IPs to help in the government’s campaign to end the decades-long communist insurgency.
In response, Unad and the tribal leaders asked the President to extend the martial law in Mindanao.
"Martial law should continue because if it's stopped, we will all be decimated” by the NPA, Libayao said in the dialect.
Tribal leaders, he added, also support the President's stance on the localized peace talks with the NPA. (Lilian C Mellejor/PNA)
Photo by Noel Celis/AFP/ABS-CBN News