“Socioeconomic reforms that will benefit the people is the most compelling reason for the peace talks to continue.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — A broad alliance of peace advocates called on President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider the termination of peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
In a press conference Feb. 8, members of the Citizens Alliance for Just Peace urged both parties to return to the negotiating table and work on the initial gains of the GRP-NDFP peace talks.
Duterte declared the cancellation of the GRP-NDFP peace talks early this week following a legitimate encounter between the Army and NPA guerrillas in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon. Two days later, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza sent a formal notice of termination of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) to the NDFP peace panel.
Reverend Irma Balaba of the Pilgrims for Peace said both parties were already discussing the second agenda. “Socioeconomic reforms that will benefit the people is the most compelling reason for the peace talks to continue,” Balaba said.
The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 has laid down four substantive agenda that aim to address the root causes of the armed conflict — human rights and international humanitarian law; socioeconomic reforms; political and constitutional reforms; and, end of hostilities and disposition of forces.
During the second round of formal talks held last month in Rome, Italy, both parties discussed socioeconomic reforms and achieved understanding on its first four items, including agrarian reform and rural development.
Joeven Reyes of Sulong CARHRIHL noted that both parties agreed to fast track the talks. Besides socioeconomic reforms, the GRP and NDFP have exchanged drafts on political and constitutional reforms. The GRP also submitted a proposal for bilateral ceasefire. “It’s unfortunate if they stop now,” Reyes said.
Reyes said a July 2016 study on the mapping of peace constituency in the Philippines shows that 80 percent of those surveyed from 43 provinces want the GRP-NDFP peace talks to continue.
Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform appealed to Duterte, “We call on him to look at the situation of the nation, contemplate on the objectives of the peace negotiations and then take action.”
All-out war not the solution
The peace advocates also frowned at Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s declaration of all-out war against the New People’s Army (NPA).
“This goes to show that he does not understand the peace talks,” Iñiguez said. “It’s saddening that there are government officials who think this way.”
Balaba said the all-out war would fail to end the armed conflict. “So long as the root causes of the armed conflict are not addressed, people will take up arms.”
Reyes, meanwhile, feared that the all-out war would result in more human rights violations especially in far-flung areas.
Reyes called on government forces to uphold and implement the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). She said CARHRIHL, like other previous agreements signed by both parties, remains binding despite the termination of formal peace talks.
Fr. Christopher Ablaon of PEPP-Mindanao remains hopeful. “The backdoor is still open. We hope that both parties will return to the negotiating table.”