“Principled negotiations, not the surrender of one party to the other, is what makes for genuine and enduring peace.” – Bp. Deogracias Iniguez, Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Church-based organizations expressed concern over the recent arrest of alleged top communist leaders, Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, saying this would affect the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (GPH).
In a press conference held March 28, Catholic Bishop Deogracias Iniguez said the arrest of Tiamzon and Austria “will put a damper again to the formal talks that restarted so optimistically in February 2011.”
Tiamzon and Austria, together with five others, were arrested on March 22 in Carcar, Cebu by combined elements of the police and military. The two, according to the NDFP, are their consultants and are protected under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig).
Iniguez, speaking as a core member of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), the largest ecumenical formation for peace in the country, called on both sides to go back to the negotiating table and talk about the next steps that can be taken to forge a path to a just and lasting peace.
“The PEPP maintains that principled negotiations, not the surrender of one party to the other, is what makes for genuine and enduring peace,” Iniguez said.
In a report, GPH panel chairman Alexander Padilla said they would go back to the table only if the talks would be “on ceasefire or reduction of violence.” The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), meanwhile, was more explicit. AFP Chief General Emmanuel Bautista, in a report, urged communist rebels to lay down their arms.
Honor previous agreements
Speaking for the Pilgrims for Peace, Catholic nun Maureen Catabian called on both parties to honor all prior bilateral agreements, especially The Hague Joint Declaration, and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and the Jasig.
Peace talks between the GPH, then referred to as the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), and the NDFP began in 1986. Over the decades, both parties signed major agreements to facilitate the talks.
“We call on both parties to clear the air by sitting down to discuss and resolve disagreements, differences in interpretation, alleged and actual violations of the agreements and avail of the provisions and mechanisms they had put in place precisely to remove such obstacles in order to advance the peace negotiations,” Catabian said.
In a statement, Padilla maintained that the arrest of Tiamzon and Austria are not in violation of Jasig. Padilla insisted that the failure of verification of Jasig-protected individuals in July 2011 rendered Jasig inoperative for those using aliases and those who are not directly involved in the peace talks.
Rey Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center countered Padilla, saying the arrest of the Tiamzon couple is a violation of Jasig. He pointed out that Wilma Austria has a document of identification under her real name proving that she is protected under Jasig. As to Tiamzon, Casambre said, the use of aliases is allowed under the implementing rules of Jasig and has been the practice for years.
Casambre said the GPH panel is “spewing at its own face by violating the previous agreements signed by the previous administrations and GPH panels.”
“It seems the GPH panel has not realized that what it is bastardizing is its own signed agreements,” Casambre said in Filipino. “Jasig can be considered as an international agreement signed by both parties in 1995.”
Rev. Fr. Rex Reyes, secretary general of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP), a fellowship of mainline Protestant churches in the country, called on the GPH “not to treat peace talks as garbage.”
For the Filipino people
Reyes said the armed conflict has “far-reaching disruptive impact on the lives of the people especially those caught in the crossfire.”
“You owe peace talks to us,” Reyes said. “You are accountable to the future generations.”
For his part, Nardy Sabino, secretary general of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), said “The interest of the Filipino people must be forwarded in any peace process and not the aim to eliminate the other party.”