|Manobo clan leader Ondo Perez/AP|
The Aquino government hasn't even reached its first anniversary in office and yet it is being taken hostage once more, this time by a group of armed Manobo tribesmen. On Friday, the group abducted 14 people including two minors in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur. The group is demanding the release of their leader, Ondo Perez, who himself was involved in the hostage-taking of another 79 people back in November 2009.
This fresh hostage-taking incident is a test case in the Aquino government's response to such crisis. One wrong move and this could end up like the fatal Quirino Grandstand incident which killed 8 Hong Kong nationals and strained Filipino-Chinese relations. The action which I am most concerned about is the government's reliance on the same group of negotiators who mediated the November 2009 hostage-taking incident. Negotiators didn't keep their promise by arresting Perez and his followers after they freed the hostages. With the same group of crooks mediating this crisis, we could expect more trouble than solutions.
What I hope the Aquino government could look into is a genuine, long-term and sustainable response to the demands of the hostage-takers. Obviously, the hostage-taking in 2009 and now stemmed from the rivalry between Perez's clan and that of Joel Tubay, another Manabo tribal leader, over ownership of ancestral lands reported to be rich in wood and mineral resources. I think both tribes are being pitted against each other thereby benefiting mining and logging companies who have interests in the area. A sincere approach to this crisis would be to ensure that the Perez and Tubay clans as well as other stakeholders are represented well in talks about a possible land distribution deal. Once each clan is given its fair share of land, full pledge assistance should be given to these families so that they can make a profitable and sustainable livelihood out of these lands. Their interest should not be given up for the sake of scrupulous mining and logging companies and the dynasties which support them.
In the end, I hope for the safe release of the hostages who are mostly teachers like me. It sickens me to hear that teachers, with simple lives and meager salaries are being used once more as bargaining chips in this kind of gunpoint diplomacy. I hope the hostages could reason their way out of this crisis and use the law to their advantage instead of putting it in their own hands. I hope the negotiators would have the heart to reach out genuinely to these poor, afflicted people.