“Abandoning the peace talks at this point will put to waste the gains and goodwill that have been made between the GRP and NDFP since the resumption of the talks in August of 2016.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Various groups and personalities from all walks of life urged President Rodrigo Duterte to resume peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Converging in several places in Metro Manila and other major cities this week, peace advocates, members of the academe, Church groups, artists and other sectors urged both parties to go back to the negotiating table and address the root causes of the armed conflict.
Former Senator Rene Saguisag, National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, Rev. Fr. Rex Reyes of the NCCP, human rights defender Edith Burgos, and former Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno were among the personalities who signed a statement initiated by Kapayapaan Campaign for a Just and Lasting Peace.
Kapayapaan maintained that Duterte’s reasons for terminating the talks – the NDFP’s insistence on the release of political prisoners, the non-signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement, and lifting of the New People’s Army’s unilateral ceasefire – are matters that can best be resolved at the negotiating table.
School administrators and professors from the University of the Philippines, Polytechnic of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, Siliman University, University of Makati and Philippine Normal University have also signed the Kapayapaan statement.
“Abandoning the peace talks at this point will put to waste the gains and goodwill that have been made between the GRP and NDFP since the resumption of the talks in August of 2016,” the statement read.
At the House of Representatives, more than 100 legislators signed a resolution calling for the resumption of talks.
“It should be emphasized that as compared to previous administrations, the peace negotiations under the Duterte administration have reached remarkable and unparalleled headway; terminating the same would only put to waste the unprecedented, positive and substantial gains the peace talks have reached,” the resolution authored by 30 party lists, 20 legislators from Mindanao, 11 from Visayas and 42 from Luzon, read.
Since the resumption of formal talks, both parties agreed to reaffirm all previous agreements and fast track the agenda laid down in The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992. During the third round of talks in Rome, Italy, both parties were discussing socioeconomic reforms and exchanged drafts on political and constitutional reforms. The GRP also submitted a proposal for a bilateral ceasefire.
Both parties also signed the supplementary guidelines of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) for the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
An ecumenical platform for five Catholic and Protestant institutions also adopted a resolution, Feb. 8, calling on both parties to resume peace talks.
“Negotiations should not be bogged down by accusations and counter-accusations,” the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) said. “Outstanding issues should be threshed out in principled dialogue over the negotiating table…”
The signatories in the PEPP resolution include Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Rev. Fr. Rex RB Reyes, Jr. of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), Bishop Noel A. Pantoja of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), Bishop Deogracias S. Iniguez, Jr. of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum (EBF) and Sr. Mary John D. Mananzan of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP).
“This recent crisis in the peace talks shows how fragile the peace negotiations are and the people’s vigilance is needed to see to it that the parties involved stay on course. But all is not lost as there is a people’s clamor for the peace talks to continue,” the PEPP said.
Speaking in a gathering, Feb. 10 at the Palma Hall, UP Diliman Chancellor and Kalinaw UP convener Michael Tan decried the continuing militarization in indigenous peoples’ communities even when the GRP ceasefire was supposedly in effect.
Human rights alliance Karapatan documented 14 victims of political killings during the GRP unilateral ceasefire period. Among them were anti-mining activists Jimmy Saypan and Joselito Pasaporte in October 2016, and four peasant activists in January 2017 namely Venie Diamante, Veronico Delamente, Alexander Ceballos, and Wencislao Pacquiao.
According to Karapatan, paramilitary groups abducted two Manobo activists, David Mogul and Maki Bail, in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat on November 14, 2016. They remain missing to this day.
“Who violated the ceasefire? Of course, they would say it’s not their men, it’s not the military. Often, it’s the paramilitary forces who are involved [in the attacks on the communities] but the term itself, paramilitary, means they are attached to the military,” Tan said.
Tan also criticized Duterte’s threats to arrest released NDFP consultants. “That’s pure blackmail,” Tan said.