BONTOC, Mountain Province – In a unilateral move, the Mountain Province Peace and Order Council through its Special Action Committee on Anti-Criminality requested the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police to position some of their personnel as buffer force to prevent possible firefight between the tribes of Botbot in Kalinga and Betwagan of Mountain Province.
The decision was made after PPOC Chairman Bonifacio Lacwasan, Jr. convened the special committee last Thursday to assess the three-day stand-off and come out with practical solutions to avoid a gunfight between the armed men of the two tribes. According to well-placed sources, armed individuals have already occupied strategic positions atop the mountain range between the two villages.
The long-drawn tribal conflict resulting from a boundary dispute was stirred last Monday (February 3) when volleys of automatic shots were heard within the disputed area. As of press time, each tribe is accusing each other of having fired the first shots.
As news of the exchange of gunshots reached the capital town of Bontoc, Mountain Province State Polytechnic College (MPSPC) president Rexton Chakas called all students from the two tribes enrolled in the school for a meeting where they agreed that they will cooperate with each other to dispel the growing tension. Last Tuesday however, municipal officials of Tinglayan led by Vice Mayor Charles Abay arrived in Bontoc to fetch the students despite the pleadings of college officials that the students be left alone. Tinglayan leaders said that they will only send the students back after an agreement shall have been made to ensure their safety.
Taking cue from the development, various sectors from the province called on the leaders of the two tribes to exclude students tribal wars. “Students are the innocent victims every time tribal wars erupt,” they chorused.
Chakas said reiterated that schools are peace zones that should be respected during armed conflicts. He warned that students enrolled at the college and who will not attend their classes during tribal wars will not be given special treatment saying that they will be dropped if they incur the maximum number of absences. “Of course they will be dropped. We explained that to their officials,” Chakas answered when asked if the Botbot students who were fetched incur absences beyond what is allowed.
The same sentiment was echoed by the MAITUD and the Social Ministry Committee of the Anglican diocese. In a prepared statement signed MAITUD chairperson Henry Atiwag and Anglican priest Lawig Ngayaan, they called on leaders of the two tribes to first ensure the return of students while looking for long-term solution to the problem.
This was also the one of the agreements reached during the PPOC emergency meeting. Through the concerned provincial and municipal DILG officials, a written agreement shall be signed by both parties to ensure the safety of students from both tribes.