Issue of June 10, 2018
Mt. Province

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Sagada ambush site as tourist site to deter armed groups
by Ofelia C. Empian

MOUNTAIN PROVINCE – One of the ways to deter armed groups from operating at the site of the recent encounter between the government troops and the New Peoples Army in Barangay Aguid in Sagada is through the development of the area as a destination.

C/Supt. Rolando Nana, Police Regional Office-Cordillera director, said he has recommend to Mountain Province Acting Gov. Bonifacio Lacwasan for the area to be developed into a tourist spot.

“There are residents and there are trails in the area traversed by people. It appears that the area remains to be an encounter site. Since three decades ago, this is one of the areas being frequented by armed groups,” Nana said.

He said the encounter last June 5 that led to the killing of one policeman and wounding of 11 others, should be discussed by the Provincial Peace and Order council because the incident tainted the town’s reputation as a tourism mecca north of Baguio.  

“We know that Sagada is a flourishing tourist destination so what is the implication of the incident? There will be tourists who will be worried of the peace and security of the town,” Nana said.

He clarified though that the encounter site is far from the cluster of tourist spots frequented by tourists in Sagada and there is ongoing investigation on the encounter.

The policemen were conducting peacekeeping missions at Mt. Sisipitan when they were fired at by a group of NPA rebels.

In a statement, the NPA-Mountain Province Leonardo Pacsi Command owned up to the ambush stating the threat of Mountain Province Police Provincial Director S/Supt. Allen Ocden of bombing the portals of small-scale miners in Fidelisan, Sagada; and Alab and Mainit in Bontoc “if they refuse to close their mines” as the one that triggered the ambush.

They said the ambush is a “message to all police personnel in combat and intelligence units and operations” as well as “all AFP combat units entering” their areas.

Nana reiterated the 1989 declaration of Sagada as a peace zone.

“It is our mandate, through our security efforts. Iyong pag-akyat ng ating kapulisan doon is to maintain this area as peace zone. Eh anong ginagawa nila (NPA)? Nandiyan sila destroying the peace,” Nana said.

He added that they have received reports that the armed groups were using the area as a training ground. The area happens to be where the Boasaw Watershed – a major water source, not only of Sagada but also of nearby Besao and Tubo, Abra, is located.

Sagada was declared a peace zone in 1989, during a forum organized by Montanosa Research and Development Center, Tangguyob Peoples Center and the Sangguniang Bayan of Sagada.

The declaration called for the total pullout of all armed groups within the town. 

“Not only are we suffering casualties, the other side is also suffering casualties, so walang magandang maidudulot itong pinaglalaban nila. And most of the casualties are from Mountain Province or most are from Mountain Province,” Nana said. 

Ocden, for his part, said there are those in the community who are supporting the armed groups and that recruitment is still rampant in the area.

“These people will not thrive in an area without the support of some in the community,” Ocden said.

Ocden also mentioned the sighting of foreigners in the encounter site during the commotion. He said they are still verifying the purpose of the presence of the foreigners.

Nana said it would take a “whole of government approach” in putting an end to conflict in the area.

“This serves as an eye opener about what is happening in the mountains that there are armed groups embedded there, so our government not only the police and the military should look into it. If you look into the statistics of the encounters happening here,  in Besao, Sagada, and Bontoc, it is mostly situated in these areas,” Nana said.

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