The truth about the inutile Sagada “Peace Zone”

Magno Udyaw
Leonardo Pacsi Command (NPA – Mountain Province)
June 10, 2014

Let us set the record straight. The legitimate demand of the people of Sagada in the closing period of 1988 for the pullout of the AFP and PNP combat troops was clearly due to the virtual siege of Sagada by the combined troops of the 50th Infantry Batallion, 3rd Special Forces Batallion and the PNP Regional Special Action Force (RSAF).  These units occupied the municipal building, the Sagada Central School, sacred grounds (“papatayan”), the Calvary compound, the dap-ays and several mountains within central Sagada including Mt. Lallal-ay, Mt. Kiltepan and Mt. Maaney.  In the ensuing course of action of the Sagada people to bring across their demand to Malacanang and the AFP, counter-revolutionaries occupying high positions in Malacanang personified by Teresita ‘Ging’ Deles and their ilk grabbed the opportunity to supplant this legitimate pullout demand with that of the “peace zone” concept.  The Sagada people’s delegation  didn’t care less about whatever the “peace zone” concept meant.  What was urgent and paramount for them at that time was the immediate pullout of the government combat troops from Sagada.  This demand however was rebuffed by Gen. Fidel Ramos, the then Secretary of National Defense, with his infamous declaration that the pullout demand “contradicts the principle of hot pursuit and lends credence to the belligerency status of the CPP-NPA-NDF”. Later, from Malacañang palace, Teresita ‘Ging’ Deles kept ringing the bell of the Sagada “peace zone” to the press to soothe the aggrieved feeling of the Sagada hopefuls but subtly to cover up the no let up militarization of the whole area of Mountain Province including Sagada and the concomitant kilometric human rights violations. Three organic batallions of the 702nd Infantry Brigade would later saturate Mountain Province including Sagada in the last quarter of 1991 until 1999. A local farmer of Sagada aptly described the oft repeated “peace zone” as “napison”.

The 69th Infantry Batallion, the last batallion of the 702nd Infantry Brigade to leave Mountain Province in mid 1999, only left after it scandalously figured out in the Pidlisan-Dalican tribal war.  However, this was immediately replaced by other AFP units one after the other.  And now, the 50th Infantry Batallion is back.  This is the same batallion that was responsible for the shooting to death of two youths of Sagada in front of the market building by its drunken elements in November 1988.  Justice for these two kids was never rendered.  The perpetrators  left scot-free.

The pronouncement of Major Gen. Catapang, then NOLCOM chief last year, that there never was a peace zone in Sagada, is reflective of the military mindset.  Indeed, there never was a time that Mt. Province including Sagada was spared from militarization and human rights violations. 

For the local officialdom of Sagada, if newspaper accounts are to be believed, to predicate their demand for the pullout of the AFP by declaring the absence of the NPA in Sagada, is too shallow and naïve in understanding the ongoing civil war in the country.  And to blame the latest skirmish between the AFP/PNP and the NPA in the area as the major factor in the slump of income from the tourism industry of Sagada is to gloss over the fact that there is a long standing global capitalist recession and a chronically worsening  national economic crisis brought upon by imperialist exploitation and plunder.  Indeed, instances of actual harassment and intimidation of tourist guides as well as tourists by AFP and PNP on combat operation  have taken place in Bangaan, Mt. Langsayan, Mt. Ampakaw, Mt. Sisipitan and elsewhere. The AFP and PNP must be condemned and made to pay dearly for these criminal acts.

However, it is wrong to equate the AFP & PNP with that of the NPA.  The AFP & PNP are mercenary security forces  of an oppressive and exploitative state while the NPA is a disciplined army of the oppressed people.   The NPA can not be faulted for the acts of the AFP/PNP.   Any breach of discipline especially committed against the masses it vows to serve is promptly acknowledged and rectified accordingly.

The situation of the people of Sagada, or any town in Mt. Province for that matter, is no different from that of the majority of the Filipino people who have long been living in abject poverty under a rotten semi-colonial and semi-feudal society.  The people of Sagada have always been part of the masses that the CPP-NPA serves.  It is their objective interest to advance the armed revolution that will ultimately liberate them from oppression and exploitation by the imperialists and the local ruling class.  And as long as the root causes of the civil war are not resolved, the revolution will advance until final victory is achieved. A gardener in Sagada aptly appraised this truism, “uray agsisinnukat kayo nga opisyales ti gubyerno, uray sinno kadakayo ti mangabak, pareho met laeng, marigrigat a gardinero ak latta” (Changing government officials doesn’t matter at all.  Whoever may win in the elections, the situation will remain the same.  I would still remain a poor gardener).

Peace is not simply the absence of war.  There can never be genuine peace for as long as the social pyramid of Philippine society remains inversely lopsided whereby only 1% of the total population controls the economic wealth of the country while most of our countrymen are impoverished and unschooled.   There can never be true peace when majority of the country’s peasants remain landless while agricultural lands continue to be  concentrated in the hands of a few landlords including the family of Benigno Aquino who fill-up the congress, senate & the bureaucracy; when the workers strive to survive on contemptibly meager wages; when public funds end up in multi-billion peso scams; when 61% of the  Cordillera’s land area are applied for by foreign mining companies; when cementing of a kilometer of road in Mountain Province would command a staggering cost of Php50 million. 

In reality, genuine peace can only be realized when the people attain social justice.  And this can only be achieved through a just war.  In this just war, we aspire to bring genuine prosperity, true political power for the people including genuine regional autonomy for the national minorities, as well as adequate education, health and other social services to the Filipino people.  We aspire for total victory!