By Philippine News Agency
WASHINGTON, DC – A senior official of the US Department of State on July 18 vowed to look into Philippine tribal leaders’ claims of abuses and attacks by the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) – a group declared a terrorist organization by the US in 2002.
“We’re definitely supportive of your organization and your quest to secure your rights and the privileges that you deserve,” the senior official told eight indigenous people’s (IP) leaders in a brief meeting at the Philippine embassy here.
The official, who requested anonymity, said he will take the information given by the indigenous people’s leaders and talk with concerned people in the US government.
“We’re in very close contact with the embassy here, we have a great relationship. So we’re gonna follow up on this and do the best that we can,” he said in response to the concerns of eight IP leaders belonging to the Mindanao Indigenous People’s Council of Elders about the exploitation and deception of the CPP-NPA against their tribespeople.
Datu Bawan Jake Lanes of the Mandaya Manobo tribe appealed for help in exposing the legal disguise of the CPP-NPA and its network that have made them suffer during the past 50 years.
He urged to know the truth from communities directly and not from those misrepresenting tribal groups because there are pseudo organizations that are able to come up with programs that sound to be legitimate but in fact, raise funds for the armed revolution of the CPP-NPA
“Help us clear the issues of IP killings. The one with the motive of killing IPs is not the government but communist armed groups that want to convert our ancestral domain as their guerrilla bases and have been recruiting our children to become NPA warriors,” Lanes said.
Same page, right goals
The State Department official expressed appreciation to the IP leaders for clarifying that the attacks against indigenous people are not carried out by the government, but are actually perpetrated by NPA forces.
“The tragic stories, personal stories that you shared mean to me to hear. So thank you for speaking from the heart,” he said.
He admitted, though, that he had actually met with other groups who have said the opposite of what the IP leaders said.
“And so, it’s important for us to try to follow up on these accusations and get to the truth to make sure that US-Philippine ties can remain strong and that we can stay together on the same page and fight for correct goals,” the official added.
As the discussions move forward, he said, the US government wants to help as much as possible, not to support or oppose any policy, but to support the Philippines and its people on the policies that they choose for themselves.
Lanes, for his part, said their concerns about the CPP-NPA are no longer a domestic problem exclusive to the Philippines.
“This is now actually an international problem. They (communists) have established a support base here in the US, not to mention in European countries,” he added.
He said the Salupungan International in San Francisco, California, is disguised as a non-government organization raising funds for alternative learning centers in tribal communities but, in fact, are NPA recruitment grounds where IP children are radicalized, and trained to use guns and eventually become warriors.
US solons’ grave concern
Meanwhile, three members of the US House of Representatives, in a separate meeting with the IP leaders at the US Congress building on July 17, expressed concern to the IP leaders plight back home against the communists.
According to US Congressman Robert Cortez Scott, Representative for Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, it is obvious that the IPs’ stories are something that needs to be looked into.
“It’s the first time it’s been brought to my attention. And so, we have some work to do,” said Scott, who admitted he has Filipino blood from her maternal grandfather who is from Benguet.
He said he needs to do some research on the legal front groups of the CPP-NPA based in the US, and find out exactly what’s going on in terms of the international questions.
“The point of contact is with the State Department. We’re working through the State Department, not through the legislative branch.” he added.
Congressman Steven Joseph Chabot, Representative for Ohio’s 1st Congressional District, echoed Scott’s sentiment saying the first step is to talk to the State Department to see what their position is. And then we’ll be able to go from there.
“With the Philippine friendship, this calls for Republicans and Democrats working together and so we appreciate the folks coming all this way to educate us and bring us up to speed as to what’s happening right now and we’ll work with the State Department,” said Chabot, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congress and State Department, Chabot said, work together in these types of matters and hopefully will come to some solution to, at least, assist the IP leaders.
Another US solon whose mother is a Filipina, Terrance John (TJ) Cox, Representative from California’s 21st Congressional District, thanked the IPs for sharing their stories and their dream of peace, prosperity, and dignity as he promised to do the best he can to help them.
It can be recalled that then US Secretary of State Colin Powell announced in August 2002 the designation of the CPP-NPA as a foreign terrorist organization, as defined under US law, after an “exhaustive review of the group’s violent activities.”
The terrorist designation makes it illegal for US citizens to provide support to the CPP-NPA, which maintains ties with leftist groups in western countries.
It also requires financial institutions to block assets and makes representatives of the CPP inadmissible to the United States or subject to deportation.
“Take action as we have to isolate the terrorist organizations, to choke off their sources of financial support and to prevent their movement access international borders,” Powel’s statement said, adding that the CPP-NPA has killed, injured or kidnapped numerous Philippine citizens, including government officials.