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Militarization, mining, counter-insurgency, national oppression and indigenous resistance

Interview with Simon ‘Ka Filiw’ Naogsan of the Cordillera People’s Democratic Front

BASICS Community News Service
Published Sep. 2011

On 01 August 2011, journalist Steve da Silva with the people’s media organizations BASICS Community News Service (Toronto, Canada) interviewed Simon ‘Ka Filiw’ Naogson, the Chairperson of the Cordillera People’s Democratic Front (CPDF), an underground and revolutionary mass alliance of indigenous people and organizations in the Cordillera region and a member  organization of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Ka Filiw discussed the increasing militarization, mining plunder, and national oppression facing the indigenous people of the Cordillera as the US-Aquino regime approves more mining concessions for the region and consequently intensifies its Oplan Bayanihan counter-insurgency campaign to repress the revolutionary movement. 

The interview with Ka Filiw was conducted in the western region of Mountain Province, Cordillera in an undisclosed location, given the underground status of Ka Filiw’s activities.  It was conducted as  part of a forthcoming book by Steve da Silva, People’s War in the Cordillera, an in-depth look at the people’s resistance and revolutionary struggle in from the vantage point of one region in Mountain Province, Cordillera within the overall context of the revolutionary movement in the Philippines. 

Steve da Silva / BASICS: Can you tell us what Cordillera People’s Democratic Front (CPDF) is, including its relationship to the people’s struggles in Cordillera, and to the broader revolutionary movement in the Philippines?

Ka Filiw / CPDF: The CPDF was founded in 1981, it launched its Political Congress in 1987, and its Organizational Congress in 1989 and ever since then it has been in operation.  The CPDF is the revolutionary united front of all the national minorities and non-minorities in the Cordillera.  There are three features of the CPDF.  First, it stands as the National Democratic Front in the Cordillera. Second, it as an alliance of all revolutionary mass organizations in the Cordillera. Third, it acts as the people’s revolutionary government in areas where the revolutionary movement is building and consolidating.

The revolutionary struggles being launched by the CPDF in the Cordillera is closely linked with the National Democratic Revolution. First and foremost, because we are all Filipinos. We cannot detach the struggles of the Cordillera peoples and the indigenous peoples from the struggles of the Filipino peoples. Such being the case, our revolutionary struggle here in the Cordillera is directly linked with the National Democratic Revolution.  Of course, secondarily, we are waging a struggle to address the historical national oppression suffered by the national minorities and indigenous people here in the Cordillera.

We here in the Cordillera are experiencing the three basic problems identified in our revolutionary documents [imperialism, feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism] plus national oppression.  That being the case, our struggles cannot advance without the national democratic revolution.  So we link our struggles with the struggles of the rest of the people in the Philippines.  That in short, is what the CPDF is and how we are linked with the national democratic struggle.

SD / BASICS: For some time, locally stationed military officials here in Mountain Province have been trying to court you into a so-called “localized peace process”, namely through the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC), in an attempt to woe you away from the broader revolutionary movement.  Time and time again you have rebuffed their attempts and identified them as a ploy in the US-Aquino regime’s new counter-insurgency approach Oplan Bayanihan. What is the status of the peace negotiations currently?

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Ka Filiw: First, let’s deal with these “localized peace talks”.  We know that there are is no other motive of the US-Aquino regime or the Provincial Peace and Order Council but to entice the revolutionary movement into capitulation.  The intention is clearly to create divisions amongst the revolutionary forces.

The US Counter-Insurgency Guide of 2009, which is what guides the Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP] in their counter-insurgency program, relegates peace talks to just another realm of psy-war [psychological warfare] operations.  With that mindset, the AFP has no intention of entering into a political settlement that will address the root causes of the armed struggle.

Now, on the status of the national peace talks, what we know is that they have met once in Oslo in February 2011 for a round of talks and have settled upon some significant points by agreeing that the peace talks that have resumed will be within the framework of the previous peace talks, which were stalled during the time of Arroyo.  They have reaffirmed previous agreements that were attained in previous talks [namely, Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL)] and they have agreed to proceed with the next substantive agenda, the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER).  I believe as of this time, the two contending parties have submitted proposals for study and future approval.  I think the NDF submitted a concise proposal to accelerate the peace process. The ball is now in the hands of the Philippine government to address what was submitted by the National Democratic Front.

With the reaffirmation of CARHRIHL, there should really be some kind of improvements with regards to human rights, particularly on the part of the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP).  But as reports have it, there is no substantial improvement with regard to the provisions of CARHRIHL.  There are a lot of human rights violations, especially in the countryside of the Cordillera.  For example, during combat operations, the AFP usually occupies daycare centres, senior citizens homes, and even private homes, endangering the lives of civilians and breaching CARHRIHL.

Beyond the rhetoric of the Aquino administration that they are respecting human rights, there is no let-up of the violation of the individual and collective rights of the indigenous people here.

So what assurance can we have in proceeding with peace negotiations if previous agreements are not implemented by the Government of the Philippines (GPH), especially as we move into this most crucial part of the negotiations, concerning the social and economic problems in the Philippines. There are the more serious mattes that need a drastic adjustment of the GPH’s policies if they want to address the root causes of the armed conflict in the Philippines. [1]

SD / BASICS: While on the topic of peace negotiations, let’s talk about the recent developments with the “Cordillera People’s Liberation Army” (CPLA). In your July 18, 2011 statement, you denounced the bogus “reintegration” of the CPLA, an orgnaization that you have been denouncing and exposing for some time for its criminality, opportunism, banditry and crimes against the people.  First, can you give us a bit of background of this organization?

Ka Filiw: The CPLA is a breakaway of the NPA in 1986, a break that was based on ideological differences. Immediately after the split, the CPLA showed its true colours by joining hands with the AFP against the revolutionary forces. The CPLA virtually became a licensed killing machine, assassinating mass leaders and political activists. Just to cite a few personalities who were martyred by the CPLA, there was the elder Daniel Nayaen, then the Chair of the Cordillera Budong Association and the Vice-chair of the Cordillera People’s Alliance. The CPLA publicly admitted that they were the ones who killed him in Kalinga, while old man Nayaen was on his way home from a meeting of the CPA.

Another mass leader that they killed at this time was Romeo Gardo, a staff of CPA in Abra.  They accused him of being a sympathizer of the NPA and they killed him.

There have been many other mass leaders and activists who have been killed or harassed by the CPLA. The CPLA had in actuality been joining operations of the AFP and PNP. It forged a peace accord with the Cory Aquino regime [the current president’s mother] in 1986. Then this renegade group split into two, and then three factions, and then four. And now, we are told, it has reemerged under the merged Humanding group.

They present themselves now not as combatants but as a socio-political force – whatever that means. Of course, with no ideological moorings this CPLA group keeps splitting for the simple reason of quarrels that emerge over the division of spoils in collaborating with the AFP and the Government of the Philippines.

SD / BASICS: You have said that the US-Aquino regime is resurrecting this organization? What are their intentions in doing this? Is it a sheer spectacle to feign the advance of peace processes, is it intended as a fake fig leaf to the Cordilleras while foreign multinationals plunder the region, or is Aquino arming a paramilitary squad to confront the New People’s Army?

Ka Filiw: I would say all of the above [laughter]. The fact that the present government seems not really interested in coming up with a political settlement for this present conflict, they will use this CPLA as some sort of “rebel group” that they are talking with in the Cordillera.

Second, while [the CPLA] now present themselves as a “socio-economic force”, there is no guarantee that when the need arises and when their services are required, considering that they are acquainted with the local situation, that they will not be armed by the present administration to be used as an augmentation force by the regime against the NPA.  In the past, they have been used as a special paramilitary force or they are directly integrated into the regular armed forces.

SD / BASICS: The present CPLA is saying that their current forces stand at 1200.  Was this not the same number provided when they integrated into the AFP the first time?

Ka Filiw: This is precisely the silly part about this whole thing.  When they were first integrated into the AFP in September 1996, there was an Executive Order stating that it would be the end of the CPLA because they were being integrated into the AFP. At that time, of the 1200 they projected as their strength, only 254 were integrated into the AFP.

So here we go again with the re-emergence of this group claiming the benchmark strength of 1200.  So this number is dubious. As a matter of fact, the name of the CPLA is now just being used by unscrupulous ring-leaders.  For example, one of the emerged leaders of one of the factions is Sawatang who was himself never an NPA, and therefore he cannot say that he broke away from the NPA.  He was a simple catechist, and when the CPLA came into being he was recruited as a member and recruited some elements from here and there, presenting themselves as former NPA.

The same goes for Rafael Wasan, who was never an NPA, nor did he ever participate in the mass movement.  The other prominent figures of the CPLA today were never part of the NPA.  So the CPLA is a fictitious organization, it’s just a name, being used by any unscrupulous elements to beg for projects and privileges from the present government.

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SD / BASICS: What are the intentions behind the US-Aquino regime’s attempt to push through a third Organic Act for creation of a Cordillera Autonomous Region, which has already twice been rejected?

Ka Filiw: I can figure out at least two reasons. First, to co-opt Cordillera professionals and use them against the emerging and fast-advancing people’s struggle.  Second, the ruling and the imperialist masters would be able to more easily come in and continue to plunder our natural resources. They would control the leadership of this proposed governmental setup.

SD / BASICS: Is this a mechanism to facilitate and deepen the creation of a subservient comprador ruling class structure made up of indigenous people here in the Cordillera region, allowing the US-Aquino regime to further their exploitation of the region’s riches?

Ka Filiw: Precisely. And further, to isolate the revolutionary movement in the process. What would differ from the current setup of the Cordillera Administrative Region is that with an autonomous region it has its own legislative power and its own right over the utilization of resources.  But they [Aquino, imperialism] will easily manipulate this process…

SD / BASICS: While the national government would wipe their hands of any responsibility over the plunder in the region?

Ka Filiw: Yes.

SD / BASICS: In your July 25, 2011 statement, on the day of Aquino’s State of the Nation Address, you detailed the widespread development aggression, militarization, and economic hardships facing the peoples of the Cordilleras, all of which have intensified since Aquino’s taking office one year ago. You describe these policies as amounting to an “ethnocide” for the indigenous peoples here in the Cordilleras. Can you elaborate upon this point?

Ka Filiw: As I mentioned earlier, the national oppression of indigenous people in the Cordillera has reached ethnocidal proportions. Their very lives and their ancestral lands, livelihoods, and resources are directly threatened by the entry of these destructive mega-projects alongside with the militarization that is accompanying them.

When we speak of ancestral lands, we speak of a territory where the indigenous people are free to develop, protect, and use the land for their own purposes.  With militarization and the mega-projects, their ancestral lands come under direct attack.  For example, during military operations the military mindset is that anyone found in the affected areas during a military operation is a fair target.  It’s always been the case the when combat operations come across indigenous people hunting in their ancestral lands, then they become direct targets.  These military operations are anathema to the concept of indigenous peoples and their ancestral lands.

Likewise, when they bring in mega-projects like dams, in one fell swoop they land grab vast tracts of ancestral lands. Of course, the lives, livelihoods, and resources are taken from the indigenous people.

That’s why we say that the national oppression has reached ethnocidal proportions, because it threatens the very livelihood and identity of indigenous peoples in the Cordillera.

SD / BASICS: Finally, what steps must the revolutionary movement of the peoples here in the Cordillera take to defend their ancestral domains from the plunder and militarization from the Aquino regime and its imperialist masters?

Image from basicsnews.caKa Filiw: We are left with no other option but to fight, we must fight to preserve our ancestral lands and attain political rights over our lands. This is what we’ve been doing since the time we launched the revolutionary struggle here in the Cordillera.

First, one of our campaigns is to oppose and frustrate the schemes of the reactionary state, and presently Oplan Bayanihan as particularly applied here in the Cordillera.

The following are some of the updated features of the Cordillera counter-insurgency operations.  First, the use of indigenous socio-political systems against the indigenous peoples. We see this in indigenization of the AFP combat troops stationed not only here in the Cordillera but also in the far north of Luzon. Particularly, under the 5th Infantry Division, you will note that most officers and senior officers of this division come from the Cordillera.  Major General Romel Gomez is from Bontoc, Mountain Province (M.P.). Colonel Soliba is from Segada, and he commands the 501st Infantry Brigade, one of three here in Cordillera. Colonel Puyao, who is also from M.P., heads the Civilian-Military Operations Group.  Most of the rank-and-file are also being recruited from the Cordillera.  Of course, there is no other intention here than to apply divide-and-rule tactics of the military.

Another is the continuous vilification and demonization of revolutionary leaders.  Not only here in the Cordillera, but applied nationwide.

Second, we must expose and oppose the misrepresentation of the interests of the people here in the Cordillera by reformist groups, contras, or agents of the present reactionary state.  For instance, there is the promotion of this new bogus regional autonomy act, the reintegration of the CPLA, and alongside the CPLA, the reemergence of the Cordillera Budong Adminstration, the political arm of the CPLA.  Alongside “regional autonomy”, the creation of the Cordillera Regional Assembly and reformist groups that are misrepresenting the interests of the people, such as the ‘Concerned Citizens of Abra’, which is actually a partner of the reactionary government. Or the Cordillera Budong Federation or Council, based out of Kalinga.  The creation of these groups is just one manifestation of our national oppression.

Also, there is the arbitrary divisions of the Cordillera region. There has been four instances where the Cordillera region been divided and redivided to fit into the national agenda of the reactionary government.  During the time of Marcos the Cordillera had been divided, with some of its provinces attached to one region, some to another. This is what we call the gerrymandering acts of the national government to break the unity of the indigenous people for the easy entry of economic relations in the Cordillera.

Third, we must win over the widest possible unity with the indigenous peoples here in the Cordillera to the revolutionary movement.  This is being done through the various revolutionary mass organizations.

Fourth, we must continue to launch attritive and annihilative tactical operations to weaken the state forces of the reactionary government.

Fifth, is to launch a sustained mass movement to rally the widest mass protest of the indigenous people against the reactionary government.

Sixth, is the link up with the rest of the Filipino people to hasten the attainment of the strategic stalemate from the present position of strategic defensive within the current Five Year Plan.

SD / BASICS: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by BASICS Community News Service.

Ka Filiw: Thank you.


[1] As of early September 2011, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) continued to refuse to comply with these previous agreements, despite its declarations of early 2011.  Its refusal to release JASIG-covered consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines who are currently imprisoned is blocking the advance of the peace negotiations.  This is in addition to mention the GPH’s continuous violations of CARHRIHL through its Oplan Bayanihan counter-insurgency initiative. See CPP statement of September 9, 2011, “Aquino’s refusal to be bound by agreements does not help push talks forward”, philippinerevolution.net.

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