By Drew Elizarde Miller
As a member of a historical peace church, the Society of Friends, I was excited when an organization in my hometown, Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, invited me on an international solidarity mission in Mindanao as well as the International Conference on People’s Rights in the Philippines in Davao City.
Although I have been learning about the situation and basic problems of the Philippines, it was not until I tread Philippine soil that the roots of the armed conflict between the NDFP and the GRP became clear to me. My integration with the masses of Filipinos has ingrained in me the reality that there can be no peace without addressing the root problems of the conflict.
A few weeks before my international solidarity mission (ISM), I was able to visit the Lumad evacuation camp at UCCP Haran where we watched the inauguration of Duterte live. As lumad evacuees crowded around the television, their desire for justice was obvious; as community members forced to evacuate their ancestral lands on the basis of red-tagging and extrajudicial killings, the possibility of peace talks brought a hope to an end of the militarization brought forth by the AFP and paramilitary groups.
During my international solidarity mission, my delegation of U.S. representatives visited Kidapawan and surrounding areas affected by the continuing drought in North Cotabato. From our interviews with local leaders, we found that the drought is still ongoing and relief is immediately needed—many have not received the promised calamity fund, and some even resorted to eating rats.
Yet when people protested, government responded to the cries of the people not with mercy but with bullets. We spent time with the family of Darwin Sulang, one of the protestors killed at the massacre. To learn that police caused the death of such a principled person as Darwin was difficult; but to hear that his family is staying at a different home every night due to harassments is devastating.
In hearing these stories, the root causes of the armed conflict in the Philippines surface. If you are hungry, if you protest for food and you are met with violence, if your land is in drought and the government punishes you for it, what is there left for you to do? Should one starve or survive on eating rats? Many Filipinos have taken up arms because the everyday conditions put their life in constant danger, whether at the hands of hunger or state violence. In order for the Lumad to hold sovereignty over their land and life, and so that the stomachs of all Filipino children may be full, peace talks between the NDF and the GRP are necessary.
Yet peace will not come merely through ceasefire. The reasons people take arms—the feudal conditions that prevent farmers from creating the produce they need, as well as the capitalist driven government that murders hungry citizens—these must be addressed with genuine land reform and a government for and of the people if true peace is to be found.
But of course, the greatest barrier to the peace talks is not reactionary forces within the Philippines, but my own government, the United States. The history is certainly there—the murder of more than a million Filipinos during the war in the early 20th century and the support of the Marcos dictatorship and martial law showed the U.S. is not for the Filipino people. In terms of the current drought, it is well known that the U.S. is the major leader in carbon emissions and driver of climate change around the world, the drought in Kidapawan being no exception. Nor can one forget the increase of U.S. military presence through the Visiting Forces Agreement, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and the U.S. Pivot to Asia, which seeks to place 60% of U.S. troops in Asia Pacific.
Currently, the U.S. media is painting the new Duterte administration as repressive, despite his claim to be from the left and his general popularity. Finally, the U.S. re-iterated the listing of the CPP, the NPA and Jose Maria Sison on the eve of resumption of the peace talks, a tactic to de-legitimize the NDFP as a partner with whom to negotiate. As a citizen who knows the U.S. government well, this is another attempt not to build democracy but to subjugate political moves that may obstruct U.S. interest in control of Philippine resources and land.
Though many of the 148 delegates come from the U.S., the problem of U.S. intervention in the Philippines do not represent our interests, as many of us ourselves are demanding change within our own unjust system. As the Lumad and Filipino people watch Duterte and continue to organize, we will follow them, and not the U.S. agenda, to peace with justice.
The international community knows the Filipino people will continue to carry their struggle until victory. It is up to those of us around the world, especially citizens of the U.S. government that outsources suffering to the Philippines, to link in solidarity with Filipinos and debunk the myths of U.S. imperialism that prevents peace in the Philippines.
Drew Elizarde-Miller is a poet, writer and former pastor from Portland, OR, where he is deeply attached to the Filipino-American community and works with Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines.