by Abril Layad B. Ayroso
MANILA, Philippines–President Rodrigo Duterte should realize that peace talks between his government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are more than just about ceasefires, activists at a rally said. last January 18, eve.
On the eve of the opening of the third round of peace talks in Rome, Italy, activists marched to Mendiola to demand the release of political prisoners whom Duterte described as his “trump cards.”
“Instead of confronting more substantive issues in the peace process such as social and economic reforms, the government dwelled on the issue of political prisoners and kept them hostage to secure a bilateral ceasefire agreement,” College Editors Guild of the Philippines national secretary-general Ronilo Mesa said.
“Duterte’s negotiating panel should be reminded that prolonging the release of the political detainees is a wilful violation of previously-signed agreements,” Mesa added, citing the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).
Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes added that several high-ranking military officials and advisors had reportedly travelled to Rome for the peace talks to press for a bilateral ceasefire as soon as possible.
“There is a mindset among the government that the peace talks are only good for achieving a ceasefire, even though the roots of the armed conflict have not yet been addressed,” Reyes said.
“Duterte should not just focus on the cessation of hostilities. He must be open to the legitimate concerns of the people,” League of Filipino Students national spokesperson JP Rosos added.
Former Bayan Muna representative Teddy Casiño said that the government must focus on socio-economic reforms, instead of just dwelling on a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
“Land reform, employment, economy, environment, culture, even free internet – these are all part of the socio-economic reforms to be discussed during the second round,” Casino said.
Casino added that addressing these issues would eventually lead to a cessation of hostilities as these are some of the causes of armed conflict.
“These reforms to be discussed in the peace talks are closer to the heart and stomach of the Filipino people. How could we possibly ignore these reforms to rush the ceasefire?” Casino said.
Violence and harassment
The rallyists also condemned the continuing militarization in rural areas, despite the interim unilateral ceasefires held by both the government and the NDFP.
“During the self-imposed ceasefire, troops under the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) remain in communities and are reported to be continuously intimidating, harassing and threatening residents,” Karapatan deputy secretary-general Roneo Clamor said.
The progressives also spoke against the Duterte administration’s new counterinsurgency program, Oplan Kapayapaan, which they say allows state forces to continue their military operations against activists.
“The Duterte government must end Oplan Kapayapaan to recognize the legitimate struggle of the Filipino people and to uphold its unilateral ceasefire declaration,” Mesa said.
Despite this, the progressives continue to hope something positive comes out of the talks.
“We remain optimistic. Yet we will not stop demanding to the Duterte to release all political prisoners, not only to urge him to fulfill his promise, but to remind him that it is right and just, and is a significant move towards achieving a just and lasting peace,” Hustisya deputy secretary-general Gloria Almonte said in a statement.
“This third round of the peace talks is important, not only because it takes on socio-economic reforms, but also because it is when we find out whether the Duterte government is serious about keeping its promises and if our cooperation with them is to continue,” Reyes added.
“The government’s continued violations of human rights can and will affect even the unilateral ceasefires – but that is no reason to stop the peace talks, as they are about more than just the end of hostilities. We must not be swayed by Duterte’s threats,” Reyes said. #