CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Despite Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s flip-flopping on the rescheduling of the peace talks, a ranking Roman Catholic official has remained optimistic that the government and the Communist rebels will still go back to the negotiating table.
Duterte may have changed his mind about the resumption of the negotiations a few times, but Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, head of the Cagayan de Oro archdiocese, said “there is also hope that peace talks will continue so that’s still what we are hoping, that it’s not only the President but all the communities affected are hoping that peace [will be achieved].”
Ledesma, the co-convener of the Phil. Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), a coalition of religious leaders active in peace initiatives, said their stand is an all-out peace rather than an all-out war.
“Our (PEPP) stand is for the peace talks to proceed because it’s always better to have all-out peace than all-out war,” Ledesma said.
Duterte, he said, has two opportunities to bring about peace in Mindanao during his term, first with the Muslim communities through the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), and with the Communist rebels through the revival of the talks.
Negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), Ledesma said, have already yielded results, with the focus of both parties now on finalizing the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser), “so there are signs that we can have a resolution of the peace talks.”
Previous rounds of talks initiated by past presidencies had resulted to the signing of the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantee (Jasig) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) between the NDFP and the government in recent years.
Ledesma has also urged both priests and local government officials to listen to the grievances of the indigenous peoples (IPs), as many of them have been affected by the armed conflict in the countryside.
He said “it’s not entirely black and white, there are also interests involved here and we hope that the dialogue and [peace talks] can really bring about better development for all of Mindanao.”
Benefits of peace talks
In a recent gathering of IP leaders here, Datu Dulphing Ogan, secretary-general of the tribal group Kalumaran, said the indigenous peoples will benefit the most from the talks as this will bring peace to their lands.
Ogan said it is the country’s national minorities’ hope that the three most common problems among the IP communities in Mindanao—right to self-determination, socio-economic issues, and human rights violations—could be addressed by the peace negotiators and their principals.
Ogan added the lack of empathy of government leaders to their plight coupled with incursion of business corporations in their ancestral domains have made the IPs suffer more and endure these violations.
National Anti-Poverty Commission Sec. Liza Maza said in a recent forum that the continuation of the peace talks is “essential to improve the lives of the poor and the less fortunate.”
“There is a close mutual relation between poverty and peace. Where there is armed conflict, families are often displaced, and their access to even the most basic needs is compromised,” Maza said.
Datu Jomorito Goaynon, chairman of the Kalumbay, an organization of “lumad” (tribal peoples), said that their members are not spared from red-tagging by state agents.
“The lumad are accused of being supporters of the NPA rebels,” Goaynon said, adding that many of them were even forced to confess as either sympathizers or insurgents and surrender to authorities.
For his part, Major General Ronald Villanueva, commander of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said they will continue their combat operations against the Communist rebels in the Caraga and Northern Mindanao regions where the NPA has established its presence and have been carrying out attacks targeting soldiers and law enforcers.
“We have our mandate, we cannot be dictated upon except upon orders of the President,” Villanueva said. (davaotoday.com)