By BENJIE OLIVEROS
After an optimistic end to the fourth round of peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), things appeared to have soured once again. Even if the GRP-NDFP peace talks have got nothing to do with the intensified battle that erupted between government soldiers and the terrorist Maute group – which is being linked to Islamic fundamentalist ISIS – it appeared to have become a victim of it.
When the fighting erupted at Marawi city and President Duterte declared martial law all over Mindanao, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) ordered the New People’s Army (NPA) to intensify its guerrilla operations and recruitment. The order appeared to have been in anticipation of a declaration of martial law nationwide – which President Duterte warned he would do if the battle with terrorists extends to the Visayas and Luzon islands– and of intensified operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against the NPA and the communities suspected to be supporting it.
In response, the GRP, through the head of the government panel Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello III, called the attention of the NDFP for “misreading the situation” then just before the opening of the fifth round of talks Presidential Adviser of the Peace Process Jesus Dureza announced that the government was not participating in it, but clarified that it was not turning its back on the whole peace negotiations. This was followed recently by the warning of President Duterte that the NDFP peace panel members and consultants would be arrested upon their return to the country from The Netherlands where the fifth round of talks was supposed to take place before it was cancelled.
Is the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations back to square one, as what happened every time the talks failed under the previous Arroyo and Aquino administrations?
Well, if there is one thing positively different about the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations under the Duterte administration is that every time it falters and even when harsh words are exchanged, somehow both panels find a way to bring it back on track. And when they do, points for negotiations are agreed upon and the talks move forward.
So the situation is not yet that bleak for peace.
Already, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) released a pastoral letter, calling on both the GRP and NDFP panels to “take bold steps to bring peace.”
“Intransigence is not strength. Humility is. That one has stood one’s ground is not necessarily the best that can be said of anyone. That he has sown the seeds of peace is to say of a person that he is blessed!”
Archbishop Sergio Lasam Utleg, D.D. of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao who presided over the Mass at The Netherlands, which was attended by members of both panels, and the pastoral letter of Archbishop Villegas called on both panels to work for social justice. Archbishop Utleg said peace could be achieved if people are able to live with dignity.
“They maintain their human dignity and if people’s rights are respected and they have their basic necessities then I think peace can be achieved.”
When Archbishop Utleg presided over the Mass, and Archbishop Villegas issued the pastoral letter, they were not aware that the peace talks have reached an impasse. Nevertheless, their advise for both the GRP and NDFP panels could break the impasse and push the talks forward.
We are sure that majority of the Filipino people want peace based on justice and would want to see the peace talks move forward. To be able to push both panels to work harder for peace and social justice, we need the voices of a broad array of sectors, not only coming from the Church.