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Peace advocates urge Duterte to return to the negotiating table


Kodao Productions
November 28, 2017

An alliance of peace advocates urged President Rodrigo Duterte to return to the negotiating table with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), calling the Government of the Republic of the Philippines’s (GRP) termination of the peace talks “sudden and unjustified.”

Kapayapaan Campaign for a Just and Lasting Peace in a statement also deplored Duterte’s order to re-arrest NDFP peace consultants, threat to tag the NDFP, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as “terrorists” and to arrest legal activists he accused of fronting for the communists.

“These constitute a complete turnaround from his avowed policy of talking peace with the CPP-NPA-NDFP to end close to five decades of armed conflict in the country by negotiating much-needed socio-economic and political reforms,” Kapayapaan said.

Duterte issued Proclamation No. 360 last week terminating his government’s peace negotiations with the NDFP in the middle of “discreet” preparations for the fifth round of formal negotiations in Oslo where agrarian reform, ceasefire and release of political prisoners agreements were expected to be signed.

“Just peace is an overarching concern for millions of Filipinos. This was the basis for the popular support the peace negotiations enjoyed during the initial months of the Duterte administration, when hopes for significant changes became possible with both sides exhibiting openness to resolve the roots of the armed conflict,” Kapayapaan spokespersons Fr. Benjamin Alforque, MSC and Sharon Cabusao said.

The group also decried “grave obstacles” to the peace negotiations, saying military operations in the countryside continue without let up under Duterte’s counter-insurgency and anti-drug campaigns that have reportedly killed thousands.

“The bombing and destruction of Marawi City is also an additional thorn to the peace process, with calls for justice by the affected victims remaining unheeded by the Duterte administration,” the group added.

Meanwhile, amid Duterte’s tirades against the communists, nine communities in Surigao del Sur have again evacuated due to fears brought about by the presence of Philippine Army soldiers in the area.

Start of crackdown against Lumad communities and schools?

Lumad education group Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) reported Monday at least 244 families, 1,102 individuals from nine (9) Lumad communities in Lianga and San Agustin, Surigao del Sur were forced to evacuate to safety when more than 80 military men were spotted near the communities.

The evacuation affected 406 students and 59 teachers of nine Lumad schools who are now staying in another community, TRIFFPS reported.

“Under Duterte’s Martial Law, the situation worsened. Duterte threatened to bomb Lumad schools and communities. This is no different from Aquino’s term where the massacre happened back in September 1, 2015. The Lumad evacuated for a year in Tandag City after the killing of their teacher and leaders by paramilitary forces who accompanied the 75th IBPA in their military operations,” the group said.

The affected communities are located within the Andap Valley Complex targeted for coal mining and are refusing to allow these companies to operate in their ancestral lands, TRIFFPS said.

Coal mining contracts in Andap Valley Comlex have been awarded by the Department of Energy to Benguet Mining Corp., Great Wall Mining and Power Corp., Consolidated Ores Phils. Inc., Abacus Coal Explorations and Development Corp., PNOC, and ASK Mining and Exploration Corp, the group added.

In a related development, Lumad schoolchildren camped out at the Department of Education (DepEd) main office in Pasig City expressed alarmed at the presence of motorcycle-riding men they suspect of conducting surveillance operations against them over the weekend.

Rius Valle, SOS Mindanao Spokesperson, said the harassment is part of harass Duterte’s threats of crackdown against suspected CPP sympathizers.

“If they just want to know what the Lumad students and teachers are fighting for, they only need to talk to us. But what is alarming is they take pictures without our permission while riding in motorcycles without plate numbers and usually with face mask. They wouldn’t do that if they don’t have malicious intentions” Valle said.

“Before, only DepEd security personnel are taking pictures without our permission. Shortly after Duterte’s crackdown threat against suspected CPP allies, men riding in motorcycles without plate numbers are also harassing us,” Valle added.

Sabotaged peace process

Kapayapaan said such actions only sabotage the peace process and hamper confidence and goodwill measures carried out by the GRP and NDFP negotiating panels during the initial months of the Duterte Presidency.

“Such actions are harmful to the people do not and never will constitute a favorable environment for the peace negotiations which the government panel itself has repeatedly tried to set as a precondition for resuming the peace process,” Kapayapaan said.

Kapayapaan added that the reported escalation of armed clashes between government troops and the NPA throughout the country following Duterte’s termination of the peace talks is all the more reason to return to the negotiating table.

“Kapayapaan urges the Duterte administration to return to the peace table and do the hard work of hammering a peace agreement acceptable to both sides and to the Filipino people and avert the prolongation of a civil war fuelled by long-standing social injustice and violations of the people’s democratic rights,” the group said.

Kapayapaan likewise urged the Filipino people “to continue to champion the cause of just and lasting peace, and resist efforts to foster the peace of the graveyard that result from warmongering, saber-rattling and authoritarian rule.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)