Gov’t, NPA urged to declare indigenous communities ‘peace zones’

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A Lumad carries a copy of Pope Francis' latest encyclical, Laudato Si, as they talk to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle who visited their camp site at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila on Wednesday. (Photo: R. Lagarde / CBCPNews)

MANILA, Nov. 11, 2015— Both government forces and Communist insurgents are being urged to declare indigenous communities across the country “peace zones”.

This recommendation was made by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle upon his visit in the camp site of protesting Lumad people at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila on Wednesday morning, Nov. 11.

“We are calling on both the military and the NDF (National Democratic Front) to declare as ‘peace zones’ the areas of our indigenous brothers and sisters,” Tagle said.

Caught in the crossfire

The church official deplored the deterioration of the situation of Lumad communities in Mindanao, and said that it is alarming that some of them have been killed.

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo earlier said many Lumads have been forced to flee their communities as a result of “ideological conflict” between the military and the New People’s Army, NDF’s armed wing.

“When the NPA go to their communities, they either recruit or train and so forth. And the military goes in to prevent NPA of doing that, so the Lumads are caught in the crossfire of this ideological conflict,” he said.

According to him, it is “very important” to emphasize other circumstances behind the human rights abuses committed against the indigenous peoples.

“I hope that our Lumads will realize that they have to discern for themselves… that they have to look at their situation and to find out who is taking advantage of them,” Quevedo said.

Hundreds of Lumads arrived in Manila last month to call on the government to act against the killings of indigenous peoples and stop the militarization of their communities.

Lumad is the umbrella term for multiple different indigenous communities in Southern Philippines.

Pull-out of military

Tagle said attaining peace means pulling the government forces out of the tribal communities and dismantling paramilitary groups, including the Magahat-Bagani.

Members of the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group were allegedly involved in the slayings of Lumad leaders in Surigao del Sur.

“Let justice reign and for the authorities to hold accountable those behind in the killings of the Lumad leaders,” Tagle added.

The cardinal, along with some priests and nuns, also brought food and water and gave financial aid to the Lumads.

He also said that his position on the Lumad issue reflects the stand of many bishops, particularly those based in Southern Philippines.

“Let’s do everything that we can [so] our Lumad people can return home and into their ancestral lands safely and peacefully,” he said. (Roy Lagarde / CBCPNews) 

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