Bishops’ Call for Peace Rejected by Military

The bishops want peace, but the military seems to want something else.

Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 2, February 10-16, 2008

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) last week called on the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to resume peace talks.

It also advised both parties to refrain from imposing preconditions that would imperil the resumption of the talks.

Peace groups welcomed the bishops’ call. They said it is about time for the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to go back to the negotiating table and address the roots of the armed conflict.

However, the peace initiative was immediately rejected by top security officials who demanded that the CPP and its armed guerillas first agree to a ceasefire or lay down their arms before the talks resume.

Human Rights Violations Continue

The Roman Catholic Church and the interfaith community in the Philippines have seen the ill-effects of the military’s counter-insurgency program. From 1999 to 2000, ousted President Joseph Estrada unleashed an all-out war in the southern Philippines against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and displaced more than one million Muslims from their homes and farmlands.

Under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from 2001 to 2006, the war against the administration’s perceived enemies resulted in extrajudicial killings of 889 activists and the enforced disappearances of almost 200. The killings and other forms of human rights violations still continue.

The church people believe that the resumption of peace talks could reduce, if not prevent, human rights violations, especially against those living in the countryside.

The resumption of peace talks between the government and the CPP was further jeopardized when Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon Jr., whose term was extended for another three months, declared that the next three months would be “bloody” because the military plans to escalate its assault against the CPP’s armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).

While the Roman Catholic Church, sensing that a bloody war is in the offing, is asking for the revival of peace talks to avert full-blown military operations, Esperon is preparing the armed forces for a major bloodbath.

In contrast to the government’s all-out war, the NDFP has expressed willingness to resume peace talks, adding that informal exploratory talks with the Arroyo administration might pave the way. The NDFP peace negotiators proposed that the exploratory talks be held in Oslo, Norway, which has been the third party facilitator in the peace talks between them.

The Philippine government has signed 17 bilateral agreements with the NDFP between 1992 and 2004, which it is bound to honor. However, it appears that the civilian bureaucracy is overpowered and held hostage by the military, as indicated by the administration’s approval of the military position on peace talks, despite public condemnation of the hostile response to the proposed revival of peace talks.

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