On the occasion of the recent gathering of ecumenical advocates, Rey Claro Casambre, who has been for one dark year in prison based on trumped up charges, has sent his message following below addressed to the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform.
OUR RESPONSE TO THESE VERY CHALLENGING TIMES
Rey Claro Casambre
Philippine Peace Center
December 4, 2019
Magandang umaga/hapon po sa inyong lahat!
Thank you for giving me this privilege - and honor - of joining you in this important gathering, and contributing to it, in absentia. You cannot imagine how much I wish I could be physically present.
Before I proceed to my assignment, I would like to seize this opportunity to thank all of you -- the Churches, institutions, offices, formations, organizations and individuals -- I hope I didn’t miss anybody -- for the prompt, strong and continuing support you gave me and Cora since our arrest almost exactly a year ago and through my continuing detention. Thank you also for the support you have extended to all political prisoners and all victims of injustice.
Indeed these are very challenging times, especially for us who value and yearn for peace. Not only for a halt to the gunfire. Not only for the "peace of a cemetery". When we first gathered in Bacolod twelve years ago in July 2007, we had varied views on how to work for peace, but what bound us together then and even stronger now is that we all wanted a just and lasting peace. This could only come about by working on a consensus and implementing basic reforms that would transform Philippine society into a truly free, democratic and just society.
Those were very challenging times as well. The peace negotiations were stalled; there had been no formal talks since June 2004. Instead, the past three years (2004-2007) were marked by a gruesome, bloody surge in extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances , massacres, illegal arrests and detention and other gross human rights violations against unarmed, aboveground progressives and mass leaders and activists. These were perpetrated with impunity by state security forces in accordance with the National Internal Security Plans (NISP 2001-2006 & NISP 2007-2010) and the AFP's corresponding implementing campaigns Oplans Bantay Laya 1 & 2.
Still, we could take off on an optimistic note, seeing "a faint glimmer of hope...amidst the seemingly impermeable darkness and uncertainty that shrouded the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations for the past three years..." (Prospects and Challenges for Genuine Peace, paper for NEPP-PEPP Luzon Workshop, RCC/ PPC, 11 October 2017). The panels had held informal talks in June 2007 to discuss the GRP's proposal for a limited ceasefire, backtracking from its prior precondition of indefinite ceasefire. The NDFP for its part reiterated its 2005 proposal for a "Concise Agreement for an Immediate Just Peace".
Our first and coming-out public statement then was an audacious call for the resumption of formal talks on the basis of all prior bilateral agreements and for the roots of the armed conflict to be addressed in order to attain a just and lasting peace.
Three weeks after that first meeting, the faint glimmer of hope was violently extinguished, when the Dutch police, treacherously instigated, aided and abetted by the GRP, arrested Prof. Jose Ma Sison and raided the offices and residences of the NDFP panel members and staff in The Netherlands.
The situation turned from bad to worse. Still, we were neither daunted nor deterred. With faith, hope and an incorrigible optimism that would become our mark, we persisted in accompanying and actively participating in the peace process, spread our message nationwide, engaged the panels and brought them to the people; and vise-versa.
The rest, as they say, is history. PEPP's contribution to the peace process is well-acknowledged by the Parties, though perhaps with varying degrees and quality of appreciation. Now we find ourselves again in "very challenging times". Is this deja vu? If so, then we would know at once and with confidence what must be done and how.
Unfortunately, the situation now is qualitatively worse than it was twelve years ago. The peace negotiations are not only stalled, they have been unilaterally terminated by the Duterte regime several times over. Proclamation 360 (declaring the termination) and 374 (declaring the CPP & NPA terrorist organizations) are unprecedented obstacles to the resumption of negotiations. So does the continuing martial law in Mindanao and MO 32 declaring state of emergency in Negros, Bicol and Samar. We are all too aware of the killings, disappearances, arrests & detention and other grave HR violations these have spurred especially since EO 70 created the NTF-ELCAC and institutionalized the so-called "whole of nation approach".
But for us peace advocates the primary significance of EO 70/NTF-ELCAC is its having abandoned the peace negotiations on the national level with finality, purportedly substituting in its place local peace talks, later sliding away further to "local peace engagements" (since not a single local NPA command had heeded the NTF's call for local peace talks). Junking national-level peace negotiations in effect slammed the door to any possibility of discussing and agreeing on basic social, economic, political & constitutional reforms to attain a just and lasting peace -- exactly what I understand you to mean by "transformative peace". In its place, the Duterte regime through the NTF-ELCAC is attempting to rally the entire nation—the whole government plus the private sector—to work for an "inclusive and sustainable peace" by improving on the delivery of basic services in contested areas, good governance, and a broad information campaign, while persuading the "rebels" and their supporters to lay down their arms and return to a productive and peaceful life. It is the proverbial band-aid solution to a chronic & systemic disease. Those who resist incorrigibly will be isolated, exposed as communist terrorists or supporters obstructing the nation's march to peace, and shall be dealt with accordingly. The PEPP and our Churches have not been spared from these ridiculous accusations and vicious attacks.
If this looks and feels like deja vu, it is because EO 70 and the whole of nation approach is proudly described by its proponents as an "enhanced version" of the 2007 NISP and Oplan Bantay-Laya 2.
There is reason to believe that the NTF-ELCAC itself knows that its purported "new paradigm" and "whole of nation approach" will not achieve its ambitious declared objective of ending the armed conflict by 2022. To date it has neither produced nor issued the "National Peace Framework" it was tasked to formulate on or before June 4, 2019, for the benefit of the whole nation it supposedly aims to rally and mobilize. It admits that its declared programs are grounded on the assumption that government is efficient and corruption-free. From the outset, it has resorted instead to arm twisting, deceit, red tagging and communist branding as prelude to attacks on unarmed, aboveground activists, and fabricating fake surrenderees to conjure and project an illusion of achievements and gains.
Why then does the Duterte regime persist in this charade? The underlying and paramount goal is to preserve the status quo at all cost. No land reform that would threaten the power and privilege of the landlords. No national industrialization that would break the monopoly and dominance of foreign capital. No political reforms that would prevent warlordism and dissolve the dynasties. No social reforms that would protect the rights and uphold the welfare of the toiling masses, indigenous peoples and other disadvantaged social groups. No constitutional and economic reforms to protect our natural resources and patrimony from plunder. And so on.
Indeed the PEPP and our Churches now face very challenging times, very similar but qualitatively different from the situation and challenges we faced in 2007. It requires a qualitatively different response.
In the past, you have often heard me say each time peace negotiations are stalled, "it only means we have to work harder to build a broader peace constituency and push for the resumption of formal talks."
We must now think of how we can contribute to removing the obstacles to resuming peace negotiations that would lead to a transformative peace, such as EO 70, MO 32 and Proclamations 360 and 374, to name only the most crucial ones.
We must assert that our staunch and unremitting struggle along with other sectors to realize a free, just and peaceful society is not only legitimate, it is an imperative that arises out of our faith. We must remain unfazed and resist all attempts to brand us as terrorists and coerce us into silence and submission.
It is no longer enough to be a mere peace advocate, however each one of us understands and lives out the title. To meet the challenge of working for transformative peace, we must now transform the PEPP and our Churches to become peace activists. Activism is not a crime. Activism is not terrorism. Activism is our way of working for transformative peace. Activism is our response to these very challenging times.