Tribal leader urges gov’t, communist rebels to resume peace talks
LUCENA CITY, Philippines—A tribal leader in the Sierra Madre mountains in northern Quezon appealed to both the government and communist rebels to resume peace talks to stop turning their mountain habitat into a “bloody playground.”
“The communist rebels and the government should stop focusing on their differences and instead face each other again at the peace table with a sincere intention to end the armed conflict,” Ramcy Astoveza, an Agta leader, said in a phone interview.
Astoveza, executive director of the Tribal Center for Development Foundation Inc. based in Infanta town, said representatives of the indigenous people should be included in the peace talks.
“We want to be represented in the peace negotiation. We want to know what kind of peace they are talking because most often they are using our mountain habitat as playground for their bloody war games,” he said.
Citing the 2010 Indigenous Peoples Policy Agenda, Astoveza said indigenous people should be consulted and given proper representation in the resumption of peace talks between the government and Muslim secessionists and between the government and communist armed groups.
He pleaded for a total stop to the armed conflict and to let the indigenous people live in peace.
Astoveza recalled the numerous times his tribe had sought refuge at the TCD building in Infanta after the military and the guerrillas engaged in clashes.
During the heat of the encounters, food aid and medicines for the tribal community were often blocked by the military on suspicion that they were intended for the New People’s Army.
Astoveza accused both the military and the NPA of human rights violations and of desecrating their culture.
Some of the natives were forced to join the paramilitary Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit despite their strong protests, tribal leaders told the Inquirer in past interviews.
Astoveza said tribesmen in the Sierra Madre were also monitoring the developments in the peace talks between the government and Moro rebels in Mindanao.
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