“The peace negotiations are important and it concerns every Filipino. Its result will directly affect our country and its immediate future.” – Act for Peace
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Peace advocates from the education sector launched a new alliance on Thursday, April 24. The newly formed Act for Peace alliance called on the government to address the root causes of the armed conflict and resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
“When we attend mass in church, we say ‘Peace be with you.’ But what is the true meaning of peace? We believe that there can only be peace if the basic problems of the Filipino people are addressed,” said France Castro, secretary general of Alliance of Concerned Teachers.
At the launching of Act for Peace, peace advocates also held a forum, “Pagtuki: Pagsusuri sa kalagayan ng bayan (An analysis of the national situation).” Pagtuki is the Cebuano language word for investigate or analyze.
“Is there peace when our basic human rights continue to be violated? When up to now, the communities of our indigenous brothers and sisters in Talaingod, Davao Del Norte are militarized? When social injustice still exists; when teachers and workers suffer from exploitation and low wages, and demolition of their homes; when people are deprived of basic social services?” Castro asked.
“We desire and aspire for peace based on justice and we are prepared to support efforts to achieve peace,” the new alliance’s statement said.
Nothing has changed
In an input by Romy de Vera, head of the education department of the Ecumenical Institute for Labor and Research (Eiler), he said that despite the promises of “change” and the righteous path for the Filipino people, the longtime call of workers for a wage increase remains unanswered. “The poor are getting poorer even with government’s claim of inclusive growth.”
He said there is no change under the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III. Neoliberal policies such as the two-tier wage system are being implemented, and the unemployment rate continues to rise. “As if adding insult to injury, prices of basic commodities and utilities also continue to increase,” de Vera said.
Citing Forbes’ list of the 50 richest people in the Philippines, de Vera said only the elite has benefitted from the touted “economic growth” by the government.
Henry Sy, shopping mall tycoon, tops the list of Philippines’ 50 richest people, followed by Lucio Tan.
“There is resistance because the longstanding problems of the Filipino people have not been addressed by the government. It is only just for the people to fight for their rights,” de Vera said.
‘Address root causes of armed conflict’
“To date, majority of the Filipino people live in deep poverty and the working class does not have access to much needed basic social services including health, housing and education. Widespread poverty and structural inequity in the country’s industrial and agricultural development are at the core of the conflict,” Act for Peace’s statement read.
The teachers’ group noted that concrete proposals on economic and social reforms addressing the roots of the armed conflict between the NDFP and the GPH have been presented before, but the talks were stalled for various reasons. “The time is very ripe for both parties to sit down together and come up with an agreement that will address these core issues.”
The Royal Norwegian Government, the third party facilitator, has proposed to hold an informal talk to which the NDFP panel has agreed. Rey Casambre, executive director of Philippine Peace Center, said:
“The NDFP said they also intend to include in the informal talks the rehabilitation of victims of disasters (of the recent typhoon Haiyan, earthquake in Bohol and the Zamboanga siege), the issues of Hacienda Luisita farmers and Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Extension with Reform (Carper) which is about the expire.”
Up to now, though, the Philippine government has not yet responded.
In an effort to popularize the call for the resumption of peace talks between the NDFP and the GPH, the Act for Peace alliance volunteered to sponsor activities such as fora, assemblies and dialogues to reach the greatest number of Filipinos and encourage them to monitor developments in the peace negotiations.
“The peace negotiations are important and it concerns every Filipino. Its result will directly affect our country and its immediate future,” the peace advocates said.
Such efforts can help put pressure on the government toward resuming peace negotiations with the NDFP, said de Vera.
Issues such as the peace negotiations between the GPH and the NDFP “should not only be discussed inside schools, it should also be discussed in communities,” said Rowie Madula, professor of De La Salle University and convener of the alliance.
Pushing for genuine change and just and lasting peace lies with the people, Casambre said. He added that the people should call for the resumption of formal talks on the basis of The Hague Joint Declarations of 1992. At the same time, he said there is a need to call for the immediate release of political prisoners and the NDFP consultants and JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees)-protected persons, so they can actively participate in drafting the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms, among others.
“The common good of the Filipino people must not be sacrificed. If Aquino is really keen in pursuing peace, he must act decisively or bear the brunt of disgruntled people from all sectors who desire peace,” Act for Peace said in a statement.