This month of September, the country is set to celebrate the 10th National Peace Consciousness Month, which aims to promote a culture of peace, and raise public awareness and understanding of the comprehensive peace process. This year’s theme is, “Lahat ay peace-sible!” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita “Ging” Quintos Deles said this time of the year is “another great opportunity for the public to engage in empowering venues that encourage positive action and dialogue for peace.” She stressed further that, “the theme is a hopeful reminder that lasting peace is possible, especially if we all contribute towards it.” The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process or OPAPP has been leading the annual celebration of the National Peace Consciousness Month by virtue of Proclamation No. 675, s. 2004.
The 76th Infantry (Victrix) Batallion, 2ID of the Philippine Army (PA) stationed at Brgy. Sto. Nino, Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, through the leadership of LTC Mario C. Africa GSC (INF) PA initiated a Tribal Leaders’ Dialogue last August 30, 2013 and that was Friday. Ms. Eden M. Cenon, Community Affairs Officer of the National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples (NCIP); Nestor Liboro, Chairman of Pantribong Samahan sa Kanlurang Mindoro (PASAKAMI); Hon. Ruben P. Dangupon, IP/ICC Representative to the Sangguniang Bayan of Sablayan; SP04 Ricardo L. Gonzales, Municipal Executive Senior Police Officer (MESPO) and yours truly as the Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Office-designate of LGU-Sablayan. Ms. Joie S. Angway and Armi Villaroza from the Municipal Social Welfare and Development (MSWD) also came to facilitate the distribution of goods for more or less 60 IP participants. 1Lt. Larry L. Mayao acted as moderator to the event.
Actually this was the third time the 76th IB extended and reached out to the Alangan and Taobuid Mangyans of our municipality. Its objective is to review the 10-year old agreement between the Mangyans and the Military.
Allow me to backtrack a little about the Agreement. No doubt that a certain incident happened in Sitio Talayob in Magsaysay town in July 21, 2003 where a whole family of Mangyans was killed during what was claimed by the military to be an 'encounter ' between the 16th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army (PA) Army and the New People's Army, is the root of all of these. During the alleged encounter, soldiers fired indiscriminately at the Blanco's house, and Roger and Olivia Blanco, and their three children, were killed. That was long ago. Everything has been different now and peaceful now. But the fact remains that the Mangyans lives and property are in danger whenever there are armed operation initiated both by the military and the rebels in their communities.
From that horrible incident raised a new beginning. After that killings in Talayob, Rev. Fr. Rodrigo F. Salazar, then coordinator of the Mangyan Mission of the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose and Rev. Fr. Mario R. Ronquillo, Chancellor, wrote a letter to then Secretary Eduardo Ermita who was then the Chief Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. People from the OPAPP facilitated the first ever dialogue between the Mangyans and the military and on September 6, 2003, through the leadership of Col. Fernando L. Mesa, Commanding Officer of the 204th Brigade an Agreement was signed. As a result, both the Mangyan and military leaders agreed to undergo series of cultural awareness program on Mangyan culture given to foot soldiers including officers. The activity continued during the time of Lt. Col. Elmer L. Quiros, former Batallion Commander of the 80th IB. During the of Lt. Col. Arnulfo Marcelo B. Burgos of the said infantry division, the same Agreement was reviewed and finally signed on September 17, 2008 in San Jose. The previous Agreement was again signed and made into flesh. But this time, there were two provisions being added: the protection of women, children and elderly.
In SEC. 22 of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) or RA 8371 states that during armed conflict, “ICCs/IPs have the right to special protection and security in periods of armed conflict. The State shall observe international standards, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, for the protection of civilian populations in circumstances of emergency and armed conflict, and shall not recruit members of the ICCs/IPs against their will into the armed forces, and in particular, for use against other ICCs/IPs; nor recruit children of ICCs/ IPs into the armed forces under any circumstance; nor force indigenous individuals to abandon their lands, territories and means of subsistence, or relocate them in special centers for military purposes under any discriminatory condition.” True enough, there are limits to war and civilians must be protected.
In his speech, Maj. Mario Lito R. Retirva (INF) PA assured the Mangyans of the soldiers’ adherence to human rights tenets. On my part, I firmly believe that the present Agreement between the Mangyans and the military, which is to be implemented in each municipality and formally be signed in the next few weeks, provides protection to individuals and communities. Also, the accountability of both parties for their action is established. It is in a way a form of concrete measure to promote human rights and the International Humanitarian Law.
Peace indeed is feasible…
(Photo: LGU File)