Armed groups told: respect Sagada peace zone

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SAGADA, MOUNTAIN PROVINCE: The presence of armed groups within the territory of Sagada in the past months is not welcomed by local government officials, even if those groups are from the national government.

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Local officials are telling the armed groups to leave the town and respect the peace zone chosen by the people in 1989.

This sentiment was heightened in a peace and human rights forum conducted here with peace advocate, farmer and businessman Lope Bosaing who said the peace zone in the tourist and agricultural town of Sagada is a significant need.

In the December 18 forum organized by the Montanosa Research and Development Center (MRDC), Tangguyob Peoples Center and the Sangguniang Bayan of Sagada in furtherance of International Human Rights Month of December, Bosaing presented the peace zone declaration of the people of Sagada in 1989.

As a businessman who operates an inn, Bosaing said a peaceful climate is favorable for tourists visiting the town, which means there is better business with the realization of a peace zone.

Some 30,000 tourists visit Sagada every year. People especially in the central barangays of Patay Poblacion, Dagdag, Ambasing, and Demang rely on tourism as a source of livelihood among operators of inns, restaurants and souvenir shops; vendors and tourist guides.

Tourists trek the mountainous terrains of Sagada in Langsayan, Pilaw, Ampakaw and Baklingayan near the boundaries of Abra and northern Sagada. Some tourist guides have been harassed when they were found by members of the Armed Forces trekking the mountains.

“Also as a farmer I have not been visiting my coffee plantation at Langsayan due to the presence of armed groups within the mountain range,” Bosaing added.

Coffee plants have become a favorite in agro-forestry sites within the mountainous terrain of Sagada where the plant is tilled in between pine trees that abound in this tourist-agri town by residents.

The 1989 peace zone called for the total pullout of all armed groups within the territory of Sagada; and absence of detachments, armed encounters, carrying of arms and harassment on civilian population aside from Sagada being an area for peaceful negotiations.

The 1989 peace zone was hatched following the death of three children, one caught in the crossfire between New Peoples Army rebels and the Armed Forces of the Philippines and two shot by drunken government soldiers within the market compound of Sagada in late 1988.

“It is significant to note that the peace zone declaration be revisited in effecting a peaceful community,” Indigenous Peoples Representative to the Sangguniang Bayan Jaime Dugao said. With Dugao, Bosaing wants to see the realization of the peace zone as demanded by the people.

Community women leader Soledad Belingon said peace is a process attained and realized by the people such that the participation of residents and officials is crucial in realizing peace.

The peace zone of 1989 was reiterated in a resolution of northern barangay officials following the August 30, 2013, bombing of AFP within the watershed environs of northern Barangay of Aguid in their reported attempts to capture NPA rebels.

The dark history of the people of the town wants to ensure the safety of hundreds of high-school students who participated in the recent Provincial Jamboree December 12 to 15 this year, thus the Sangguniang Bayan, in a resolution, asked the AFP the military pull out from Lake Danum.

While Sagada is a peace zone, violations have been noted including the 1991 bombing by the AFP on Mount Sisipitan in the northern Barangay of Aguid, the 2006 ambush of NPA rebels on AFP soldiers in Pegew, Antadao, and the AFP presence in Lake Danum, Mount Ampakaw and Sitio Lasig in the recent months of 2013.

Tangguyob Peoples Center coordinator Gwen Longid-Gaongen asked who shall be culpable in cases of violations of the peace zone. She forwarded that the government entered into a Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL) and added that the Joint Monitoring Committee is tasked to monitor the implementation of the agreement.

In the local scene, the Peace Action Group created by the Sangguniang Bayan is tasked to monitor the implementation of the October 2013 AFP-LGU agreement in counterinsurgency.

The provisions of the AFP and the LGU agreement on October 21 this year was presented by Sangguniang Bayan councilor Eduardo Umaming Jr., saying that LGU officials “are not combatants” and that the role of the LGU is in “convening, coordinating and facilitating the consolidation and development stages” in the eradication of poverty such as projects and programs implemented by the LGU.

The MOA forged between the LGU officials through Mayor Eduardo Latawan Jr. of Sagada and the AFP through Lt. Col. Richard Sibayan of the 50th Infantry Battalion contained clear- hold-consolidate-develop stages of eradicating insurgency and addressing its root causes. The AFP, among its responsibilities in the agreement is, “to facilitate and ensure external support to identified development projects and programs” of the LGU.

In the forum, Barangay Chairman Rovaldine Dagacan of Ambasing asked the relevance of the peace zone as to the delivery of basic services including health, agriculture, education and other basic services aside from infrastructure such as farm to market roads.

Sagada is one of seven declared special development areas when the National Unification Commission in 1993 forwarded to Malacañang the proposal and the Department of the Interior Local Government was appointed as lead agency with the giving of P5-million development funds to each of the seven development zones.

The P5-million fund was implemented by the Sagada LGU then for waterworks supposed to service Patay, Dagdag, Demang and Ambasing which eventually went to a water cooperative composed of a few members.

Sagada is currently a recipient of P15-million Pamana funds from the office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process besides other government projects as core shelters from DSWD, road projects from Department of Public Works and Highways and Department of Agriculture and other infra projects from regular budget of the LGU.

A document to contain the opinions and results of the forum shall be formalized by the secretariat of the activity with the SB and members of the local media and to be provided to the participants and barangay constituents.

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