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Sierra Madre tribe to AFP, NPA: Leave us alone

LUCENA CITY—A group of indigenous people living on a mountain range that has become a battleground in the counterinsurgency campaign called on government soldiers and communist rebels to spare its ancestral land from clashes.

Ramcy Astoveza, Agta tribe chieftain, said that while his people welcomed the government declaration of a one-month holiday truce in its offensive against the New People’s Army (NPA) and expected the NPA to reciprocate, his tribe just wanted to be left in peace.

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Astoveza said what the tribe really wanted was for soldiers and rebels to spare communities of Agta in the Sierra Madre mountain range from fighting.

“What we desire is for a total stop to any form of violence from both of them,” Astoveza said.

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“What we want is total peace in Sierra Madre,” he said.

On Monday, President Aquino approved a unilateral ceasefire with the rebels to begin shortly before Christmas (Dec. 19) and end on the day Pope Francis leaves the country after a four-day visit (Jan. 19, 2015).

Astoveza said the Agta people should not be caught in the crossfire of the counterinsurgency campaign but the construction of military camps in their midst was driving the tribal folk into the middle of the war.

The military has defended the camp inside the ancestral land of the Agta tribe, saying its presence there was approved by the landowner.

The camp, according to Maj. Angelo Guzman, public information officer of the Armed Forcesí Southern Luzon Command, “is relatively far from the (Agta) community.”

But Astoveza said the camp, though on a land owned by a lowlander, was still inside a tribal community.

“We’re peace-loving people. Our children are not used to seeing persons with guns,” he said.

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TAGS: Agta tribe, Armed Forces of the Philippines, New People's Army
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