Peace advocates together with relatives of political prisoners called for the public to become involved in the ongoing talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front Philippines (NDFP).
A “peace constituency” in President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s term will compel the government to resume the peace talks, said peace advocates in a forum organized last week by Pilgrims for Peace, a network of individuals and organizations working towards the resumption of the peace talks.
“Ang peace talks po ay public process, kailangan ng public participation,” said Raymond Palatino, chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan NCR, one of the convenors of the forum.
The organizers called for four action steps: the resumption of peace talks, amnesty granted through legislation, socioeconomic reforms from the peace talks agenda, and accountability from the government.
Peace talks were stalled during President Benigno Aquino III’s term after the government refused to recognize the validity of previous peace agreements between the GPH and the NDFP. Members of Pres. Aquino’s peace negotiating panel have even called these past agreements “documents of perpetual division.”
The arrest of NDF peace consultants because of trumped-up charges has also undermined the peace process. The NDF asserts that the government is under obligation to release these consultants as stipulated in the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees or JASIG. However, the JASIG is among the previous peace agreements that the Aquino government refused to honor, said Cristina Palabay, chairperson of human rights group Karapatan.
Palabay added that militarists in the government can openly speak against the peace talks and still be able to stop the peace process from happening. “The public’s encouragement is thus needed,” she said.
Pilgrims for Peace also raised its call to grant amnesty to all political prisoners through legislation. According to Karapatan, most of the 539 political prisoners have been detained after illegal arrests and “alias” warrants. More than half, or 287 civilians and consultants, were arrested under Aquino’s term.
Within the week of the preliminary peace talks in Oslo, Norway, two political prisoners have been released because the charges against them lacked evidence. Activist-writer Sharon Cabusao and Isidro de Lima, a former labor leader, were released on June 15 after their motion to quash evidence was granted. Last year, members of the Philippine Army arrested them and Cabusao’s husband Adelberto Silva , an NDFP peace consultant. The Bacoor Regional Trial Court dismissed their case of illegal possession of explosives. Silva, however, remains in prison for his alleged involvement in the so-called Leyte mass grave.
Human rights groups call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners. “Hindi lang ito usapin ng kalayaan ng indibidwal, kundi paglaya din ito ng boses ng mamayan,” said Nikki Gamara, daughter of political prisoner Renante.
Peace advocates also look forward to discussing the proposed socioeconomic reforms of the NDFP to the GPH, such as steps towards building national industries and the distribution of agricultural lands to farmers. However, some sectors view this as a possible contrast to Duterte’s plan of allowing foreign investors to continue playing a major role in the economy.
“Lagi na mang may pagkakaiba,” BAYAN secretary-general Renato Reyes said. The Left still looks forward to Duterte’s positive pronouncements on socioeconomic reforms, such as reviving the country’s steel industry and appointing peasant activist Rafael Mariano as Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary. Reyes said, however, that the people’s movement will not stop demanding for meaningful socioeconomic reforms under the Duterte administration.