PEACE ADVOCATES. Panel speakers during the Mindanao Peace Forum held at the Homitori Inn in Davao City on Wednesday, March 15 share light moments with the media and the participants who are mostly religious leaders. (From left to right) Fr. Rex Reyes, convener of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform; Atty. Antonio Arellano, government peace panel member; Bishop Felixberto Calang, convener of the Sowing the Seeds of Peace Movement; Satur Ocampo, independent cooperator for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace panel; and Sr. Luz Mallo of the Sisters Association of Mindanao. (Zea Io Ming C. Capistrano/

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — If the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines achieved a final peace agreement, Mindanao, where Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte came from, stands to gain much from it, peace advocates said.

Iglesia Filipina Independiente Bishop Felixberto Calang, lead convener of the Sowing the Seeds for Peace in Mindanao said the uniqueness of the island in the south of the Philippines has the most vulnerable sectors of the society composed of the Moro and the Lumad.

“Mindanao is unique in terms of its culture. The Moro and the Lumad are the most vulnerable because there is a prevailing biased against them,” Calang said in an interview with Davao Today, Friday.

He also said that Mindanao is the “most ravaged” with a number of transnational corporations, particularly mining, profiting from the natural resources of the region.

“Mindanao is so vast, it is rich in natural resources. We are a very rich island and yet our people live in abject poverty,” he said.

Recently, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources moved to cancel 75 mineral production sharing agreements, 37 of which are from Mindanao, 11 in the Visayas and 27 in Luzon.

Calang said the successful conclusion of the peace talks, particularly the signing and implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, would be a lot of help for the people of Mindanao.

“The condition in Mindanao is very, very much wanting (of peace),” Calang said.

Hundreds of peace advocates recently gathered for the Mindanao Peace Forum on March 15 at the Homitori Inn to get updates on the peace negotiations from both a representative of the government panel and the NDFP.

The forum was organized by the Sowing the Seeds of Peace Movement, Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Sisters Association in Mindanao and Sandugo Alliance of Moro and Lumads.

The groups who attended the forum stressed that the all out war declared by the government against the New People’s Army resulted to attacks on communities and killings of Lumads and farmers in Mindanao and other parts of the country.

4th round of talks to focus on CASER

After the talks were  terminated by President Rodrigo Duterte due to skirmishes between the government troops and the New People’s Army  on February 4 this year, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza announced that the talk is “back on track” following the informal talks concluded by both Parties in Utrecht, the Netherlands last March 10-11.

The fourth round of talks next month will focus on the CASER draft, the second of the four substantive agenda of the GRP-NDFP peace talks. CASER is called by both Parties as the main agenda, the “heart and soul” of the peace negotiations that seeks to end the armed conflict which spans almost five decades.

Under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, it is only now that the CASER and the two other agenda: political and constitutional reforms and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces were tackled.

During the third round of talks held in Rome, Italy last January, the Parties had started discussions on the Part IV of the six-part agreement, which is the Agrarian Reform and Rural Development.

According to the Joint Statement signed in Rome on January 25, the Parties reached a common understanding on the general features of the agrarian problems in the Philippines.

The Reciprocal Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms (RWCs-SER) “agreed in principle” to the free distribution of lands to farmers and farm workers as part of the governing frameworks of the CASER.

The Parties also agreed to accelerate the negotiations on SER by creating bilateral teams to reconcile contentious provisions in the drafts “and/or provisions which have no corresponding equivalent in each RWCs’ exchanged drafts.” The Parties signed the Ground Rules for the Conduct of the Formal Meetings between the RWCs of each panel.

When the peace talks resume on April, the Parties will discuss the remaining items under the Part IV, the National Industrialization and Economic Development (Part V), Environmental Protection, and the Rehabilitation and Compensation (Part VI).

Not easy

Calang said discussion on the social and economic reforms “is not an easy issue.”

“There are people who are not up to it. There are people who are afraid of the conclusion of this social and economic reform agenda of the talks. They will move heaven and earth to refrain the talks from concluding,” he said.

He said the two Parties should concentrate on the main agenda of the talks “which is to address the root causes of the armed conflict.”

Calang said forging a bilateral ceasefire for instance, is “not the main agenda of the talks.”

He said even if there is a ceasefire it does not mean that peace has been realized. “Unless the root cause of the armed conflict which is poverty and inequality in the country, any other means cannot fully realize the transformation of the society.”

“That means even if wala na ang NPA, MILF and other groups, kaning mga nagalunsad og political struggle,there will be some other forms of political struggle that will continue to sustain the struggle for social and economic reforms

(Even if there is no more NPA, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other groups who are waging a political struggle, there will be some other forms of political struggle that will continue to sustain the struggle for social and economic reforms),” Calang said.(

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