Gov't assures help for Caraga region tribal leaders during pandemic

BUTUAN CITY – The government has assured tribal leaders and their people that it will continue to assist them saying that indigenous peoples (IPs) are more vulnerable to the health risks posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Shown in photo are tribal leaders raising concern over the current peace and order situation in their respective highland communities in Agusan del Norte and neighboring areas during a consultation with ranking government and military officials in Barangay Simbalan, Buenavista town, Agusan del Norte province on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020. (Photo courtesy off 23rd IB-CMO via Mike U. Crismundo/Manila Bulletin)

The IPs, aside from their vulnerability to disease, are also facing the daily challenge of intimidation and extortion from the remaining Communist New People’s Army Terrorists (CNTs) in their communities. 

Together with the members of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), troopers of the 23rd Infantry Battalion (23rd IB) also joined other line agencies of the government in visiting and consulting with the IPs last Aug. 3 at Barangay Simbalan, Buenavista town, Agusan del Norte province.

The activity was attended by National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Secretary Allen Capuyan, also head of NTF-ELCAC, and by nearly 200 tribal leaders and members from the hinterland areas in the towns of Las Nieves, Buenavista, Nasipit, and Carmen in Agusan del Norte.

“Many innocent lives of ordinary IPs and their leaders were lost here in the province of Agusan del Norte and the rest of Caraga region due to the continued terroristic activities of the CNTs,” said Lt. Col. Julius Cesar C. Paulo, 23rd IB commander. 

He took note of the IP killings perpetrated by the CNTs even when the people of Caraga region are battling COVID-19.

He added that the consultation on Monday served as a venue for the Higaonon tribal leaders to ventilate their concerns in their communities.

Tribal leaders from the Higaonon tribe in Agusan del Norte province and neighboring areas joined in the consultation and discussion on their ancestral domains, most of which are situated in Conflict-Affected Areas (CAAs) and Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDAs) in the province.

Capuyan and other officials from the different line agencies of the government assured the tribal leaders and their followers of government help and protection. 

The tribal leaders also raised the issue on the issuance of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) which they regard as an important document to establish ownership of their ancestral domain claims. 

They said the lack of CADT impedes the plan of every tribal community to further develop their ancestral lands. They added that left-leaning groups with links to the CNTs also exploit the lack of CADTs in communities and use the issue to recruit more IP members. 

Capuyan emphasized the salient provisions of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) as the basis to pursue the efforts of tribal communities for the issuance of CADT for their ancestral domains. 

“IPRA provisions will ensure the rights of the IPs  and your ancestral domains,” he said.

The tribal leaders said they are confident that the issues and concerns they raised on their ancestral domain will be addressed by the different agencies of the government. 

“The efforts of the government will remain futile if we do not cooperate,” Datu Ampiyawan (IPMR) said, as he assured Capuyan and the representatives of the government line agencies of the continuing support of the Higaonon and Manobo tribes to the efforts of the government to bring peace and development to the province. 

Also present during the consultation were representatives from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Philippine Information Agency (PIA), National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), the 402nd Infantry Brigade, and the Police Regional Office (PRO-13).

A total of 200 hygiene kits were also distributed to the tribe leaders and members.

“Your government servants, especially your army will never cease to extend help, bring programs, projects, and services and are always willing to hear the voices of our beloved IPs,” Paulo said. 

He said the Army, as an active part of NTF-ELCAC, “will continue to encourage the IPs to help the government fight insurgency that has caused poverty, hunger, and conflicts in IP communities.” 

“Let us help each other to end the armed struggle to improve the lives of the IPs and to hasten the development in the identified Conflict-Affected Areas and Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas in Caraga region,” he added.