Observers hope talks impasse is temporary

NOORDWIJK AAN ZEE, The Netherlands—A nun and a priest who arrived in this city to observe the scheduled fifth round of formal peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) expressed disappointment at the cancellation of the talks.

Invited as observers to the formal negotiations between the GRP and the NDFP, Sr. Ma. Luz Mallo, MA, and Fr. Manuel Vicente Catral however said they are hopeful the stalemate is just temporary.

Sr. Luz, executive secretary of the Sisters Association of Mindanao and convenor of Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao, was on was on her way to this city from an international religious gathering in Weimar, Germany when she heard of the GRP’s announcement of its non-participation in the round.

“I still came over because I was hopeful there is a remedy to the impasse. I was praying socio-economic reforms would still be discussed,” Sr. Luz said.

“It does not benefit the Lumad, the Bangsamoro and the poor that finding solutions to the maldistribution of land, destruction of natural resources and other social ills in our country is postponed, even if temporarily,” she added.

Fr. Catral for his part questioned the sincerity of those who cancelled the round.

“How serious are we?  Shouldn’t it be that any attempt for peace be undertaken with utmost sincerity?” the Social Action Commission chairperson of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao said.

Fr. Catral concelebrated a Holy Mass with Tuguegarao Archbishop Sergio Utleg last May 28 attended by both GRP and NDFP negotiators as well as Royal Norwegian Government officials who are facilitating the talks in this city.

“Be not afraid”

In place of a homily, Archbishop Utleg read the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) statement on the scheduled formal round encouraging the parties to “take bold steps that alone can bring peace.”

“We trust that our negotiators—on both sides—will be anointed by God’s Spirit so that His sons and daughters in this land that has already been drenched by so much blood may at last walk the ways of peace,” the CBCP said.

The CBCP also said both the GRP and the NDFP should “steadfastly stand for social justice and for the renewal of an order that has left too many to wither away in the peripheries.”

It was the first time a Holy Mass was celebrated as part of a formal round of GRP-NDFP talks.

The celebration lightened an obviously tensed atmosphere as the negotiators struggled to find a way around the impasse.

The GRP however eventually said there is no enabling and conducive environment for the fifth round to proceed with the formal round, scuttling the talks a few hours after the Mass.

Reforms over war

“I am personally disappointed that, in an instant, the apparent high hopes displayed by the negotiators after the Mass changed in an instant,” Fr. Catral for his part said.

The priest said he is saddened he failed to observe how the parties would have negotiated for free land distribution, delivery of basic social services and environment protection.

“All the efforts exerted to prepare for this round are wasted,” he added.

Sr. Luz for her part disagreed with the GRP decision, saying those most affected by social inequalities should have the strongest voice in the negotiations.

“The context of the reason given by the GRP Panel is wrong,” the nun said, adding support for the continuation of the formal negotiations is strong among the marginalized sectors.

“I saw how the MARBAI (Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc.) fought for their land and President Duterte himself supported their struggle.  Why can’t landlessness among the farmers be discussed in the peace negotiations?” she asked.

Both however expressed hope the impasse is temporary.

“I observed that both parties are ready to discuss socio-economic reforms.  Even when the round was officially cancelled, there were still holding meetings to prepare for the resumption of negotiations,” Sr. Luz said.

“I hope the Filipino people show the GRP and the NDFP the depth of their desire for the talks to proceed.  That is the only way the negotiators can take the peace talks more seriously,” Fr. Catral said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)