Group calls for peace in Panay

A group of academicians, researchers, and cultural workers in Panay has called for peace in the region following the police operations that led to the killing and arrest of tribal leaders on December 30.

The Panay Indigenous Culture Advocacy Group (PICAG), in a statement, raised concern over the incident and its impact on the indigenous peoples (IPs) in central Panay.

“The residents of our research sites and the communities where we have conducted knowledge-building since the late 1980s have become concerned with their safety and well-being. The loss of a maaram (learned) culture bearer is irreplaceable,” they said.

PICAG is composed of IP professionals, academic scholars, researchers, and cultural workers.

“Amidst being scared for the loss of more lives, the scholars are disturbed by the trauma that the recent events have brought to the children, women, and respected magurang – the elder members of the community who are the cultural bearers and keepers of indigenous traditions,” PICAG said.

Their communities have made Panay a repository of rich traditional culture, which is unequaled in other parts of the world, the group said. Among these are sugidanon or epics of Panay, and binanog dancing and panubok or indigenous embroidery, the group added.

“The efforts of the scholars in lifting the Panay Bukidnon culture with the IP professionals, who are now proud to forward the above-stated traditions, have taken almost a lifetime to accomplish for several of us,” they said.

They added, “we do not want another setback to this advancement and have these important cultures and practices be buried again repeating the dark era for Panay culture in the 80s.”

“We are making an urgent and serious request now to value life, peace, and trust for the indigenous peoples to cultivate and safeguard the cultures and traditions which we have labored so hard to uplift as culturally-concerned and peace-loving individuals.”

On December 30, state forces simultaneously served 28 search warrants in the villages of Tapaz, Capiz province, and Calinog, Iloilo province.

However, during the operations, nine died, including barangay officials, and 10 were arrested in Tapaz, while seven suspects were nabbed in Calinog, Iloilo province.

The fatalities and those who were arrested were said to be leaders and members of the IP belonging to the Panay Tumandok, but the police maintained that the operations were due to the reports that the said personalities were armed.

The families of those killed disputed the claims of the state forces that they have firearms in their residence and that they resisted arrest.

The incident also led the 300 individuals to flee their homes at Barangay Lahug, Tapaz town due to fear.

‘Stop culture of violence’

Prosecutor Flosemer Chris Gonzales, chief of the legal cooperation cluster of the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC), has called on the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) to “stop the culture of violence.”

Gonzales, in a recent press conference at Camp Martin Delgado in Iloilo City, hit the communist group for accusing the National Task Force-ELCAC as a violator of human rights when they were the ones calling for violence.

“NTF-ELCAC is all about peace. But peace is very elusive if we have an enemy who calls on violence, who relies on violence to achieve its aim. But one thing is clear, desperado na kayo siguro ano (perhaps you are already desperate)? Kasi (Because) you cannot reason out with us. The only thing left for you to do is the most barbaric thing to do. Violence is the last resort of people who lost all reason and logic,” he said.

Undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), also the NTF-ELCAC spokesperson, labeled the communist group as liars and hypocrites.

“They are calling the NTF-ELCAC a killing machine but it’s actually them. CPP-NPA-NDF is the killing machine and they are not human rights defenders as what they call themselves, they are the worst offenders of human rights,” she said during the press conference.

“I am sorry but peace will not be cheap. It will come at the expense of grief from Filipinos who’ve been deceived into thinking that the only solution is the armed struggle. And there is a price to be paid for something like this,” she added during the press conference.

Just weeks before the deadly police operations, the NTF-ELCAC had organized a peace summit in Tapaz.* (with reports from PNA)