By FROILAN GALLARDO
IMPASUG-ONG, Bukidnon–A small band of Higaonon elders are busy practicing how to use guns during a firearms familiarization instead of celebrating the Indigenous Peoples Month with songs and dances.
The Higaonons, led by AgolioNanolan or DatuMandedlayan received instructions from soldiers, among those his granddaughter, Pfc. John Marie Nanolan.
The elders had just come from the headquarters of the Army’s 8th Infantry Battalion in Impasug-ong town where they performed “Pamungkas, Panlitub, Pambadbad” ritual rites on Friday.
The rites were an offer of friendship to the soldiers, according to Nanolan.
He said although most datus support the government and the military, there are some who support the New People’s Army.
Nanolan said the intensity of the war between the government and the NPA has placed lumads in the middle of the conflict.
“Some of the Higaonon have chosen to side with the communist rebels. This have divided our community,” the 72-year-old Nanolan said.
The Armed Forces estimated the number of communist rebels at 3,900 nationwide in 2018.
Indigenes form the bulk of the NPA rebels whose area of operations are in the mountains and fringes of Mindanao.
The military’s Eastern Mindanao Command faces 50 percent of the NPA rebels in northeastern Mindanao and the province of Bukidnon.
Eastmincom has 21,485 Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) members distributed to 12 provinces and 10 component cities in northeastern and southern Mindanao.
Like the communist rebels, the lumad form 60 percent of the 21,485 militiamen while only 783 of them are regular enlisted Army personnel.
Lt. Col. Ronald Illana, the commander of the 8IB, said the war against the rebels with lumad combatants is intense in the mountains that form the backbone of Mindanao.
Illana claimed however that the Army has successfully degraded the communist rebels and decreased NPA-perpetrated violence in Bukidnon.
“Our strategy of winning the hearts and minds of the lumad is gaining some success, and more elders like DatuNanolan are finding it is a wise move to support the government,” he said.
A multimillion-peso funded program called End Local Communist Armed Conflict (Elac) initiated by President Duterte assured there is enough money for the indigenes.
Illana said a regional task force composed of government agencies implements Elac to boost the delivery of basic services in identified insurgency stronghold areas.
“When we were with the NPA, each of us contributes P5 a day or P150 a month. The Army on the other hand gave us a tractor and bags of seedlings for our farms,” Nanolan said.
He said the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples awarded Nanolan and his community a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title for 14,000 hectares in Barangay Hagpa.
“We have a future if we support the government,” Nanolan said.