Church leaders urge Aquino to break impasse on peace talks with NDFP

“We enjoin our faithful to work and persevere in guarding the commitment of the GPH and NDFP to uphold the four substantive issues framed in the Hague Joint Declaration especially the Social and Economic Reforms.”

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Leaders of five federations of Catholic and Protestant Churches are one in calling for the resumption of formal peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Seventy-six Church leaders from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao issued the appeal after the 3rd Ecumenical Church Leaders Summit on Peace held March 5 to March 7 in Baguio City.

In a Joint Pastoral Letter titled “Let Us Start Rebuilding”, members of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) expressed concern on the continuing impasse on the peace talks.

“We have gathered to bring our collective strength together in an effort to encourage a breakthrough in the impasse that has stalled the Peace Talks since February 2011,” the statement signed by Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Rev. Fr. Rex R.B. Reyes, Jr. of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Bishop John R. Tayoto of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, Sr. Aurora A. Codiam of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines and
Bishop Felixberto L. Calang of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum read.

The Church leaders appealed to President Benigno S. Aquino III “to shepherd the formal peace talks between the GPH and the NDFP just like the way he did with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).”

“His [Aquino’s] commitment to the negotiations can help create a positive atmosphere to resume the formal talks,” they said.

Peace talks between the two parties hit a snag after the GPH refused to release detained NDFP consultants. Thirteen NDFP consultants to the peace talks are still in jail. Four have been arrested under the Aquino administration.

The religious leaders noted that even the special track in the negotiations has not prospered.

The NDFP has offered to the GPH a ten-point proposal for a concise agreement for an immediate just peace.

Release NDFP consultants

The Church leaders reiterated its appeal to the GPH to release the detained NDFP consultants as articulated in the Oslo Joint Statement of 21 February 2011.

Such plea, the Church leaders said, is not hinged solely on the contested issue of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) but also on the basis of humanitarian and other practical reasons.

Last year, the PEPP issued a statement pleading for the government “to release on recognizance (ROR) under the collective custodial guarantee the NDFP consultants who are willing to be under the sanctuary of the churches.” However, the Church leaders said that a condition required by the GPH with regard to the ROR proposal “has discouraged the consultants to avail themselves of this remedy.”

In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Rey Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center and one of the NDFP consultants, said the GPH set five conditions, three of which, according to Casambre, “would expose NDFP consultants to greater danger.”

These conditions are as follows:

Custodians must guarantee that released persons must be verifiably above-ground;
Custodians must guarantee that released persons must be verifiably participating in the peace talks; and,
Custodians must be responsible for all actions of the released persons.

Casambre said detained NDFP consultants rejected the GPH proposal.

Casambre cited the cases of NDFP consultants Sotero Llamas and Jaime Soledad. “Llamas, a former NDFP consultant, decided to stay above ground but was killed by state agents and Soledad, after being released from prison, was arrested again,” he said.

Llamas was shot dead in March 2006 in Tabaco, Albay. Soledad, on the other hand, was arrested in March 2008 and released in July 2011. He was arrested again on May 2, 2012.

The Church leaders called on both panels to reconstruct the JASIG list “to ensure that the security of all those involved from both sides is respected and guaranteed.”

The JASIG list contains the names of all persons participating in the peace talks. Those covered with JASIG are supposedly immune from suit and any other form of harassment.

The GPH said it could not release NDFP consultants because the verification process failed. The diskettes containing the list could not be decrypted. The NDFP’s office in Utrecht, the Netherlands was raided by Dutch authorities in 2007 and the diskettes containing codes for decryption were taken.

In a statement, government peace panel chairman Alexander Padilla said “the Jasig has become inoperative for those who are using their assumed names or aliases because of the failed verification process due to the NDF’s inability to put actual photos.”

The NDFP has proposed to reconstruct the list but the GPH has refused.

“We enjoin our faithful to work and persevere in guarding the commitment of the GPH and NDFP to uphold the four substantive issues framed in the Hague Joint Declaration especially the Social and Economic Reforms,” the Church leaders said.

Signed by both parties in 1992, The Hague Joint Declaration set the framework for the peace talks and the four substantive agenda. Both parties already signed an agreement on the first agenda, with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. The next agenda would be social and economic reforms.

“We pray for both sides to pursue all tracks to peace. We keep our kindred spirits high and we will seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:14, 1 Peter 3:11),” they said. ()

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