Church leaders expressed alarm and concern at the deteriorating prospects for peace as shown by the Rodrigo Duterte government’s demonization of human rights.
In a pastoral statement, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) said that while the Advent season has arrived, “unpeace” reigns as the Rodrigo Duterte government continues to consider human rights as a barrier to peace and order.
“This is evident in the arrests of a journalist and six union organizers on the day when the whole world was commemorating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” the church leaders said.
Several activists have also been arrested or killed in the past few months while numerous lives continue to be claimed under the campaign against illegal drugs, they added.
The statement was signed by Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro Bishop Emeritus and PEPP co-chairperson Antonio Ledesma; Bishop and PEPP co-chairperson Rex B. Reye; Bishop and National Council of Churches in the Philippines general secretary Reuel Norman Marigza; Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines; Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Commission executive director Reverend Dr. Aldrin Penamora; and PEPP head of secretariat Bishop Emeritus Deogracias Iniguez Jr.
The church leaders pointed out that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) had been relentless in its malicious red-tagging of organizations and individuals critical of the government, including churches and church personalities, by falsely accusing them of being linked to terrorism.
They blamed the harmful rhetoric coming from President Duterte himself.
“This is in sharp contrast with the advent period a year ago when back channel negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) resulted in a Christmas ceasefire which redounded to a hopeful atmosphere for peace,” the pastoral statement said.
President Duterte announced last December 7 that there will no longer be ceasefire declarations nor peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army and the NDFP as long as he is president.
His announcement followed the repeated and public announcements by the Armed Forces of the Philippines that it will never recommend the declaration of ceasefire with the Communist groups.
The CPP in turn announced Wednesday, December 16, it is impossible for them to issue the traditional ceasefire declaration over Christmas and New Year while government troops terrorize civilian communities and conduct intense military operations against their revolutionary forces.
The CPP ordered the NPA to actively defend civilians and their ranks from AFP military operations throughout the holiday season as well as urge its members to secretly observe its 52nd founding anniversary on December 26.
‘Silence guns during season of hope’
While calling on both parties to “silence the guns during this season of hope,” the PEPP pointed out that the Duterte government’s rejection of the results of the back channel talks during this COVID-19 pandemic is what brought about the state of unpeace.
“[It] unilaterally stopped the peace negotiations, and proceeded to heighten its war against the NDFP, the New People’s Army (NPA), and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and its so-called ‘legal fronts’, the group said.
“Since then, three NDFP consultants – Randal Echanis and Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio — were killed, while many others like Rey Claro Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center remain in jail. Even former NDFP Consultant Alfredo Mapano, who was already working for the government, was re-arrested,” it added.
The PEPP pointed out that the government is set for an all-out war in 2021 with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act while substantial funds were also designated for its counter-insurgency program with P19-billion set aside for the NTF-ELCAC.
The PEPP however said such policies will only further fan the flames of the armed conflict.
“This drive to annihilate the CPP-NPA-NDF without seriously addressing the long-standing issues of poverty, landlessness and inequality in the country, will not bring about a just and enduring peace,” the church leaders said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)