Church leaders call for peace talks, Covid response on International Day of Peace

Sep. 21, 2021

CAGAYAN DE ORO – In observance of the International Day of Peace Tuesday, September 21, a group of Christian leaders appealed to the administration to revive the stalled peace negotiations with the communist groups.

On the commemoration of the International Day of Peace, with the theme “Recovering Better for an Equitable and Sustainable World,” the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) has appealed to both the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)to give peace talks a try.

“It is in this spirit that the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) enjoins our people to celebrate the International Day of Peace and let us call on the government to prioritize the country’s healing,” the group said in their statement.

The healing, the group said, can be best exemplified if both parties will come to an understanding and resume the peace talks.

“Let us also call on the GRP and the NDFP to join the whole world in this historic occasion by returning to the negotiating table and together put an end to further human rights violations and the loss of life as a result of the conflict,” PEPP said.

The negotiations gained momentum during the first year of the Duterte presidency with four rounds of talks being conducted in Europe discussing the second agenda on socio-economic reforms, but President Duterte called off the talks in mid-2017.

Terror tag

The group acknowledged that the quest for peace in relation to the decades-old conflict between the state and the NDFP “has become elusive again” and remains an insurmountable task with the NDFP being branded as a terrorist group by the Anti-Terrorism Council after the passage of the Anti-Terrorist Act of 2020.

“This effectively buried years of laborious and painstaking agreements and gradual steps toward peace,” PEPP said.

It said that with the breakdown of the peace negotiations, significant increases in armed encounters between the AFP and the NPA have been recorded and there were many recorded violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, “even in the midst of a debilitating health crisis.”

PEPP has also noted that this year’s theme underscores the need for the global community to heal from the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, “to think creatively and collectively about how to help everyone recover better, how to build resilience, and how to transform our world into one that is more equal, more just, equitable, inclusive, sustainable, and healthier.”

The theme, it said, also calls for all people to make peace with nature especially at this time of worsening impacts of climate change.

According to the UN, by April 2021, over 687 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally, but over 100 countries have not received a single dose.

The Philippines is one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, and the underprivileged and marginalized groups are suffering the most with the slow vaccine rollout, the group said.

Prioritize Covid response over conflict

“For the International Day of Peace this year, the UN also wants us to direct our attention to people who are caught in conflict because they are especially vulnerable in terms of lack of access to healthcare,” it said.

In February 2021 the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for member states to support a “sustained humanitarian pause” to local conflicts, to ensure people caught in conflict have access to lifesaving vaccinations and treatments.

“This is in line with the urgent appeal for global ceasefire by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued last March 23, 2020, so that the world can focus together on defeating Covid-19,” PEPP said.

Various sectors, even lawmakers have called on the government to focus its attention and resources on the fight against Covid-19 instead of further intensifying its counter-insurgency campaign, it added.

These calls came on the heels of the proposed 2022 budget. The government proposed a budget of P5.024 trillion for 2022, higher by 11.5% than the 2021 budget.

However, only 4% or P240 billion will be allotted for pandemic response, the group said.

Meanwhile, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) will be getting an P11.36 billion increase to its budget for total of P30.46 billion.

While the education budget was slashed including the budget of the University of the Philippines and consequently that of the Philippine General Hospital.

“Such actions of the government go against the calls of the International Day of Peace,” PEPP said.

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