DAVAO CITY – After striking a peace deal with the second Moro guerrilla front, would President Aquino be ready to talk peace with the communists?
The question cropped up after the arrest last week of ranking Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leaders Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, even as the stalled peace negotiation between the two parties remained hazy and uncertain.
But peace groups said they wanted President Benigno Aquino III to resume talks with the National Democratic Front after its peace deal with the Moro secessionist group.
The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, led by several Catholic and Protestant bishops, issued the appeal Friday after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
“We pray that both panels take to heart that negotiations towards peace are always incremental, a historical building process that takes years, sometimes with great steps forwards and at others times slow and tedious. In this movement towards a negotiated peace, the gains of the past should never be discarded. Both parties need to keep building on the platforms that have been threshed out through principled negotiations. Every time a gain is made, it needs to be fixed and safeguarded in place,” their statement said.
The statement was signed by co-chairpersons Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma and Sharon Duremdes, former secretary general of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and head of secretariat Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez.
The group urged both panels not to force the issue of surrender as earlier called out by Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista.
“The PEPP maintains that principled negotiations not the surrender of one party to the other, is what makes for genuine and enduring peace,” their statement said.
Talks with the NDF had been on and off since 1992. Aquino revived the talks on February 2011 in Oslo, Norway, with a timetable of completing three of the remaining agenda agreed on the Hague Joint Declaration: socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms and cessation of hostilities.
The talks stalled few months later when the NDF demanded the release of their consultants facing charges in court.
Earlier, Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles told an online news report that the signing of the CAB “exerts pressure on any other armed movement” to talk peace. Deles said the public should urge the peace talks to continue.
But a PEPP member, Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Diocese of Misamis Oriental and Cagayan, told Davao Today that they had long been calling for the resumption of the talks.
“On the part of the churches, we will continue work to expand our peace constituencies that will help push the talks with previously agreed agenda,” Calang said.
Calang said they had long talked to government and the NDF panel for years. When talks resumed in 2011 in Norway and broke down again, the group constantly consulted with both parties to work out issues such as the implementation of previous agreements such as the Hague and Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees.
Calang also said another group he convened, the Sowing the Seeds of Peace, a Mindanao-wide coalition of local officials, church groups, and various groups had come up with a Mindanao agenda to address socio-economic reforms.
The bishop said he earlier said “more talk toward more peace” should be made even with the armed conflict continuing.
“Our hope springs from the face that peace talks have produced agreements beneficial to the people, who are real stakeholders in resolving the roots of the civil war in the country,” Calang said.
Development worker Margarita Valle, who has worked on the Bangsamoro peace process, wrote in her column in SunStar that the public sees the government doing an “insincere act” in dealing with the NDF.
“Why can’t the so-called government authorities respect what prior administration has started in the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig), which should have been a ‘confidence-building’ measure that was supposed to show its true intent to pursue peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines? This agreement is not only signed between the GPH [government of the Republic of the Philippines] and the revolutionaries, but an accord that includes us, civilians, who have a lot at stake in it,” Valle asked.
She called government’s peace situation “with the Bangsamoro being fast-tracked and opening doors of possibilities, (but), another window seems to be closing.”
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who has declared his openness to talks with the NDF, pitched for the resumption of talks.
In an interview with Davao-based online Newsdesk Asia, Duterte said the war waged by the NDF must be “interrupted” by the resumption of the peace talks.
“It would do us well to move toward that direction,” he said, adding that “we do not get anything if we fight—and fight for what? I’d say we can still talk with the NPA,” Duterte said.
The mayor also urged government to heed the position of former peace negotiator Silvestre Bello III that Tiamzon and Austria should be released as they were covered by the JASIG.