By CLEMENTE BAUTISTA
There is no reason for the peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), representing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), and the Government of the Philippines (GPH) not to resume. Resolving the roots of the ongoing civil war—landlessness, poverty, neo-colonial exploitation and subservience—is an aspiration of the Filipino people that will also give us time and space to rehabilitate our environment devastated by conflict and plunder.
But as much as the people would love to achieve peace that is based on justice, the peace talks have been suspended for several years now. While both sides have issued statements that they are willing to continue, negotiations remain on a standstill.
The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment would like to propose that one immediate basis for the resumption of the peace talks is for both parties to start discussing how to address pressing environmental challenges and problems in the country.
I’m sure both sides will agree that the Philippine environment is in a state of grave crisis. Independent estimates peg our forests at less than 7 percent of its original cover. Government estimates 22 percent at best, which includes timber and coconut plantations that do not even function as forest ecosystems. Only 4 percent of our coral reefs remain in excellent condition, and only less than a third of our mangroves’ forest cover remains.
The Philippine Constitution mandates the state to advance the people’s right to a balanced and healthful ecology, and the NDFP also has no reason to disagree on this.
In its ‘10-point proposal for concise agreement for immediate just peace’ to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III years ago, the NDFP in fact discussed the need to unite for a healthy environment and against the plunder of natural resources. The NDFP also notably proposed a united position against the presence or stationing of weapons of mass destruction in the country, and for the NPA to serve as our country’s forest guards.
The NPA have clearly proven that they can impose their authority in the territories they say they control. They have meted out ‘revolutionary punishments’ to private and foreign corporations that have violated their environmental policies such as in the provinces of Palawan, Surigao, Compostela Valley, Cagayan, and many more. It is no wonder that many areas where NPA presence is reportedly strong, like the Sierra Madre in Luzon and the Pantaron Mountain Range in Mindanao, have well-preserved forest areas.
Based on the above principles and proposals, the parties can discuss urgent environmental issues like the cases of Aurora Pacific Economic Zone’s land-grabbing in Casiguran, Aurora, the encroaching of timber and agricultural plantations in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, and the entry of nuclear armaments through the US-PH Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
They should also look into the expansion of coal power plants in Palawan and other parts of the Philippines; the rehabilitation of mangrove and beach forest areas in Samar and Leyte; the destruction being wreaked by Chinese black sand mining in Cagayan; and the passage of a new people’s policy on big mining. They could also work together to bring justice to the killings of Dr. Gerry Ortega, Leonard Co, Fr. Pops Tentorio, the Capion family, and other environmental martyrs.
These are concrete and immediately doable talking points. Why does the BS Aquino government insist on the CPP-NPA-NDFP to accede first to a cessation of hostilities as a precondition to resuming peace talks? Does the GPH believe that armed conflict is the root cause of poverty and maldevelopment in the country? In 2011, GPH peace advisor Ednar Dayanghirang even presented an analysis that climate change is the root cause of armed conflict. Seriously?
The Aquino government should realize that armed resistance and revolution is borne out of extreme poverty and oppression, in which resource plunder and its consequent displacement of grassroots communities are strongly linked. Climate change? It only amplifies an already existing social ferment. To repeat an important premise: Address social injustice, and you address the root of armed conflict.
Whether we like it or not, there is a civil war raging in the country. Both blocs in this civil war claim that they are for the interests of the people and the integrity of our environment. Let that be a starting point.
Clemente Bautista is the national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE).