The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) strongly denounces the bombing and aerial strafing of the communal land in Aguid, Sagada, Mountain Province on August 30. Reports indicate that the air assault took place a day after an encounter between elements of the Regional Mobile Group of the Philippine National Police and the New People’s Army leaving two members of RMG wounded.
While there as yet have been no civilian casualties reported in the air assault, it certainly terrified the communities around the area. A community elder said: “It was like World War II.” It was not only a show of the fire power but also spelled destruction of the fragile economic systems that support the northern barangays of Sagada. We deplore the destruction and bewail the trauma this has caused the children. Equally deplorable is the haste with which the PNP-Cordillera downplayed the effects of the air assault. It demonstrates a lack of any real assessment on the lives and livelihood of affected civilians.
This greatly underscores the need for the resumption of the peace talks between the Philippine Government and the National Democratic Front. They have to re-engage in authentic and meaningful peace talks. Of late, the government has been suggesting that peace talks be localized. However, the militarization of the Cordillera undermines the legitimacy of such an approach. Indeed, Sagada was a trailblazer in the Peace Zone. The initiative developed through the years and came to a head in the mid 1980’s when two young boys were killed following the indiscriminate firing by drunken soldiers. Armed combatants were banned from entering the communities. Other internal mechanisms were instituted to report and deal with the presence of combatants. The Peace Zone was widely recognized even by the government in 1989. If government is unwilling to respect local peace agreements of such long standing, much less the tenor of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, the NCCP questions its sincerity in regard to any future localized agreements. All the more does NCCP call on the Government and the NDFP to resume the formal peace talks that are national in scope.
Rev. Rex R.B. Reyes, Jr
The Most Rev. Ephraim S. Fajutagana
Obispo Maximo, IFI and NCCP Chairperson