Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform
September 19, 2021
Peace as a Sacred Right of People
On September 21, the whole world will observe the annual International Day of Peace. Forty years ago, in 1981, the United Nations issued the “declaration on the right to peace” which affirmed peace as a sacred right of all people and a primary prerequisite for the material wellbeing, development and the progress of countries. The UN also underscores that the preservation of the right of peoples to peace and the promotion of its implementation constitute a fundamental obligation of each state.
In the Philippines, September 21 is also the anniversary of the imposition of Martial Law during the time of the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. Human rights were trampled on during this time were many were victimized and killed and the armed conflict between the government and the New People’s Army (NPA) also heightened.
In 2001, the UN General Assembly has declared September 21 as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, through observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire.
Recovering Better for an Equitable and Sustainable World
This year, the theme for the International Day of Peace is “Recovering Better for an Equitable and Sustainable World” . The theme underscores the need for the global community to heal from the 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”. It 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 that are hardest hit by the pandemic, and the underprivileged and marginalized groups are the most that suffer. The vaccine rollout in the country is also quite slow.
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. 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 a global ceasefire by Secretary-General António Guterres issued last March 23rd 2020, so that the world can focus together on defeating COVID-19 .
The Call for Resumption of the GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations is a Call for Healing
Today, the quest for peace in relation to the decades-old armed conflict between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has become elusive again. Since last year, the government of President Rodrigo Duterte has closed its door to principled peace negotiations with the NDFP. The government first rejected the results of the backchannel talks that Sec. Silvestre Bello had commenced with his NDFP counterparts in December 2019 to restart the peace negotiations after unilaterally terminating the peace talks in 2017. Then, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 became a law which led to the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) lately designating the NDFP as a terrorist group. This effectively buried years of laborious and painstaking agreements and gradual steps toward peace. This is really sad since September 1, is also the 29th anniversary of the Hague Joint Declaration which is the foundational document and framework that paved the way for the peace talks between the said parties.
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.
Various sectors, even lawmakers are calling on the government to focus its attention and resources on the fight against COVID-19 instead of further intensifying its counter-insurgency campaign. These calls came on the heels of the proposed 2022 budget. The government proposed a budget of Php5.024 trillion for 2022, higher by 11.5% than the 2021 budget. However, only 4% or Php 240 billion will be allotted for pandemic response . Meanwhile the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) will getting an Php 11.36 billion increase to its budget for total of Php 30.46 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.
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. 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.
WE encourage all churches to consider adopting the attached liturgy in celebration of the Day of Peace for Sunday, September 19, 2021.