By ALELI MADRIGAL
MANILA — Various groups expressed support for the possible resumption of formal peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), following the joint communique where the two parties agreed to resolve the armed conflict.
“National unity and an end to armed hostilities are possible if there are thoroughgoing socio-economic and political reforms that benefit the people,” said the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in a statement.
Last month, the Philippine government and the NDFP held a simultaneous press briefing to announce the possibility of returning to the negotiating table. After months of holding a series of informal talks facilitated by the Royal Norwegian Government, the parties finally arrived at the joint communique that they signed in a low key ceremony in Oslo, Norway on November 23.
“Talking peace is always better than relying on a militarist approach to end the armed struggle, especially since armed struggle stems from deep-rooted social ills which cannot be solved by bombing communities and forcing the surrender of the struggling masses,” Bayan said.
Agreement with the devil?
However, two weeks into the signing, Vice President Sara Duterte, daughter of former President Rodrigo Duterte, criticized the joint communique. She said that the Marcos Jr. administration should reconsider the decision to resume the peace talks, describing it as “an agreement with the devil.”
Duterte is also vice chairperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), the country’s lead counterinsurgency arm that was formed under the administration of her father after he unilaterally terminated the peace talks in 2017.
House Deputy Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, however, said that such statements “reflect a lack of understanding of the complexities of the peace process and a disregard for the aspirations of the Filipino people for just and lasting peace.”
“Instead of promoting war, we call on the Vice President and those she represents to support efforts towards a peaceful resolution of the armed conflict in the country,” she added.
The joint communique also received a nod from the House of Representatives. In a joint statement of political party leaders in the House of Representatives (HOR), they described the signing as a “historic move” that is a “pivotal moment in our nation’s journey towards lasting peace and sustainable development.”
The HOR also pledged their support to contribute to these negotiations.
Honor past agreements
The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) also welcomed the signing of the joint communique, saying that it is a “glorious positive sign” ahead of the 75th year anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 2023.
The PEPP said that they have earlier written to the Marcos Jr. administration to reconstitute the government’s peace panel and resume the peace talks. They also urged the current administration to uphold previously-signed agreements with the NDFP.
This pertains to the agreements of the Philippine government and the NDFP from previous administrations that dwell on the framework and agenda of the peace talks, on the safety guarantees of those participating and on human rights and international humanitarian law.
Under the previous administration of Duterte, the peace talks had an unprecedented pace as they discussed free land distribution, rural development and national industrialization as part of the social and economic reforms agenda of the peace talks. However, the talks were aborted when the Duterte administration unilaterally terminated it.
Earlier, however, Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said this is not a resumption and that they are starting anew or “from the very start.”
“We hope that various barriers to peace will be resolved through dialogue and principled negotiations,” the PEPP said.
The statement was signed by Archbishop Emeritus Antonio Ledesma, Bishop Rex B. Reyes Jr., Bishop Noel Pantoja of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, Minnie Anne Calub of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Sr. Mary John Mananzan OSB of the Women and Gender Commission of the CMSP and Bishop Emeritus Deogracias Iñiguez Jr.
Abolish NTF-ELCAC, repeal terror law
Bayan said that among the first steps to genuine peace is to abolish the NTF-ELCAC and to repeal the Anti-Terror Law.
Since its formation, the NTF ELCAC has been criticized for its relentless red-tagging and terror-tagging of progressives and those criticizing anti-people policies. Local and international human rights groups, including the United Nations, have long said that red-tagging is used to justify, if not lay the grounds for, graver rights abuses such as the filing of trumped-up cases, enforced disappearances and even killings.
The Anti-Terror Law, on the other hand, has been used to quell the struggles of rights defenders.
No less than the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Climate Change Ian Fry recommended the disbanding of the NTF-ELCAC and the repeal of the terror law.
“Perhaps the peace the Vice President aspires for is the peace of the graveyard — an end to dissent, to vigorous democratic discourse and debate and the quest for better alternatives for our people. Her contempt for the GRP-NDFP peace talks and rabid espousal of the NTF-ELCAC is anathema to the people’s quest for peace and justice, ” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Student Christian Movement of the Philippines National Chairperson Kjerrimyr Rodrigo Andrés said in a statement that persisting hunger, oppression and exploitation will keep peace at bay.
“We must reiterate that peace is not the absence of conflict, but, ultimately, genuine peace is social justice,” he said. “Thus, let’s quote what Sara Duterte once said: Whoever is against peace is an enemy of the nation.” (JJE, DAA)