New hope crushed, new call made
Seek peace and pursue it!” (1 Peter 3:11)
New hope for just and lasting peace sprung with the decision of the Duterte administration to enter into a dialogue with the National Democratic Front (NDF) sitting on one table after a five-year stalemate. Awareness and fervor may vary among the Filipino people but, without a doubt, the impact is relevant to all—the proverbial common good.
Backslides of late alarm the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. The Philippine government (GRP) and the NDF withdrew from their respective unilateral ceasefire declarations. And President Duterte announced the suspension of the peace talks, terminated the conditional freedom of recently released leftist political prisoners, and assailed the other
party with scathing words. A serious setback is the termination of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) by the GRP. The move nullified the immunity guarantees that protected the rights of NDF personnel and sabotaged the atmosphere for peace negotiations. Without the Jasig, the peace talks cannot proceed. We strongly urge President Duterte to honor Jasig and all other agreements signed by both parties.
Peace is in peril once again. Peace prospects had flickered at a crucial moment in the heat of discussions regarding the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (Caser). What would emerge is a signed agreement on socioeconomic issues to be implemented separately by the two parties, and attempted solutions to the hardship and injustice on the ground. This would make the document the heart and soul of both the talks and the struggle.
The IFI enjoins the two parties to focus on the ultimate purpose of the dialogue: to quell the longtime inequality, and the widespread suffering the armed conflict has been causing the Filipino people. The IFI deems it necessary that the GRP and NDF see eye-to-eye on the root causes of armed conflict: widespread poverty, landlessness, absence of decent-paying jobs, concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few, among others problems. Only from this point can they truly walk hand-in-hand toward achieving a just and lasting peace.
Distrust is a huge, principal roadblock to negotiations. Finger-pointing will not help. We demand seriousness and good faith from the two parties—for the sake of the Filipino people who yearn for peace. We clamor that they “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4). We insist on the need for collaborative work—in defending human life and in upholding the dignity and rights of every person.
The separation between the powerful and the poor is a scandal to peace (Amos 5:11-13), and the IFI will never turn its back on the pursuit of justice, with and on behalf of those in the margins. The IFI, along with other peace advocates, will continue to be on guard of the peace talks. The road to peace may be long and arduous, but the pursuit of just and lasting peace continues.
THE RT REVD FELIXBERTO CALANG, Bishop of Cagayan de Oro, independent observer to the GRP-NDF peace negotiations; THE MOST REVD EPHRAIM FAJUTAGANA, obispo maximo, Iglesia Filipina Independiente
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