Poor town shows why rebs persistBy Germelina Lacorte
DAVAO CITY—The rugged road to Trento’s hinterland barangay of New Visayas—where the New People’s Army (NPA) freed Lingig town Mayor Henry Dano and his military escorts—showed the great divide that once gave birth to the communist armed movement and made it thrive in over four decades.
Cutting across a vast palm oil plantation that stretched from the Trento highway and ended in the interior, the pothole-riddled road showed impoverished huts isolated from each other under the shade of healthy palm trees, where peasants toil but could not own the land.
Freshly harvested palm fruits were left lying by the roadside, destined for export processing somewhere.
Farther up the rugged, sloping road, the hinterland barangay of New Visayas is less than 10 kilometers from the highway, but feels inaccessible and a world apart.
In the ongoing Norway-brokered talks with the government to end over 40 years of armed conflict, the NPA’s political arm, National Democratic Front (NDF), is pushing for genuine agrarian reform.
NDF’s land reform
Unlike the controversial Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), or its extended version the CARPER Law, the NDF-proposed agrarian reform features free distribution of land to tillers.
Although the proposal has been integrated in the NDF’s draft of the comprehensive agreement for socioeconomic reforms (Caser), the government has yet to present its draft before talks resume hopefully by the end of the year.
The peace talks resumed in February this year after 2004. But it was stalled over the demand of the NDF for the release of 13 political prisoners covered by the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantee but are still in jail.
NDF peace panel chair Luis Jalandoni said genuine agrarian reform is at the core of socioeconomic reforms that NDF has proposed to the government panel.
Dano and his bodyguards were released a day after the NPA released four jail guards in Magpet, North Cotabato, in a confidence-building gesture that could open up the Norway-brokered peace negotiations.
The release, however, also came six days after the attack which briefly paralyzed operations of three nickel mines in Claver, Surigao del Norte.
The group Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao said the NPA attack in the Caraga region posed a challenge to local officials and made it very urgent for both parties to approve the Caser.
“In the light of the attack versus mining firms, it is very urgent for both parties to approve Caser,” said Bishop Modesto Villasanta, convenor of the group that helped free the NPA captives.
In a statement read during the release of Dano, Rubi del Mundo, spokesperson of the NDF in Southern Mindanao, renewed the NDF warning against abusive agribusiness firms, plantation owners and foreign-owned large-scale mining firms.
“We warn those despotic big landlords, big compradors, environmentally destructive foreign mining firms, large agricultural plantation owners and politicians who maintain private armed groups, you will have your day before the bar of revolutionary justice,” said Del Mundo in the statement.
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