What really happened in Sagada?


A news report of a possible mistaken air strike conducted by the Philippine National Police  (PNP) in Mt. Province last week deserves a good second look by the proper authorities.

The air strike was supposedly intended to flush out communist rebels, but instead resulted in the destruction of farms and ancestral hunting grounds of indigenous peoples residing in the area.

While no one can question the PNP’s job of neutralizing the New People’s Army (NPA) wherever they operate, they must never lose sight of their primary task which is to serve and to protect the people.

Indeed, parts of the Cordilleras remain a hotbed of communist rebel activity. These ultra Leftists usually operate in areas which are underdeveloped and where poverty is predominant. Sad to say, the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR) is one of the poorest and least developed areas in the country.

Among the few bright spots in the CAR is Sagada, which has become a favorite of local and international tourists looking for an opportunity to commune with nature. As a result of the bombings, tours to the area have been cancelled and/or suspended. Thus, it can also be said that the economy of the area—what little there was—was likewise damaged by the rain of bombs a week ago.

Presuming that there were NPA rebels in the area—members of the outlawed group are almost impossible to identify once they hide their weapons—a ground assault may have been the better option. An air assault almost always causes extreme damage to the environment while never guaranteeing that the proper enemy targets are hit.

Consider that during the Vietnam War, the US had near total superiority over the Viet Cong, yet the non-stop air assaults were no game changers. The US still lost that war.

According to the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, the PNP bombings lasted a good seven hours. This alone indicates possible overkill on the part of the PNP. While no one expects precision air strikes by the aerial bombers, there should also be as little collateral damage as possible. This does not appear to be the case.

At the very least, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) should conduct a comprehensive investigation of what really happened in the municipalities of Sagada, Besao and Bontoc last week.

Thus far, what can be ascertained is that two PNP helicopters took part in the bombardment. The attack may have been in retaliation to the losses suffered by government forces in earlier encounters.

All too often, the PNP, the communist rebels, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines tend to forget that their encounters endanger the lives and property of the peace-loving residents where the protracted war between the two sides takes place.

Most residents want nothing more than to live quietly. Ideology is the farthest thing from their minds. The Fidelisan, Dallic and Bontoc tribes affected by the aerial bombardment may not even have a clear idea as to why the government and the rebels have been fighting for close to five decades now. Mostly, they are simple folk and what they experienced could have caused lasting psychological and emotional damage, especially to their children.

What really happened in Sagada and adjoining areas last week? The CHR should ferret the truth from the lies.


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