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Peace is process not agreement

CAGAYAN DE ORO (SE): The long stalled peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Communist Party of The Philippines got off the ground in Oslo, Norway, on August 22 last year in a flurry of excitement, which soured as quickly as it was generated by October 8 in their second round.

Nevertheless, the Ecumenical Peace Platform has called on both parties not to give up, but to look at peace-making as a process rather than a negotiation.

“For lasting peace to be attained, it is important that people have ownership of the peace talks, not just the Democratic Front and the government,” Bishop Felixberto Calang, the convener of the Peace Platform, an ecumenical group of Catholic and Protestant Church leaders, said.

The Peace Platform is aiming at a compelling and united voice from Church leaders, clergy and laity to push the two conflicting parties in the long-running hostilities into a continuing substantive peace dialogue.

The group has been calling for the two parties to focus on providing concrete solutions to the primary causes of the conflict in The Philippines and step away from self-interest issues.

The Philippine government and Democratic Front peace negotiators are set to meet in Rome later in January to resume the formal talks that started and stalled in Oslo last year.

Bishop Calang said that he believes both parties must involve local communities in the peace process to give them a deeper understanding of the situation.

“People must own the peace talks so that they can push the process further. If along the way there are some setbacks, the people can continue to urge the government to continue with the talks until peace is finally achieved,” the bishop explained.

Bishop Calang expressed the hope that the Democratic Front will abide by a ceasefire, especially in the southern region of Mindanao, in the wake of charges of violations of a truce by the military.

“The challenge of the government now is to restrain its forces from committing reported human rights violations, to conduct an investigation and punish the violators,” the bishops from the Peace Platform said.

Bishop Calang said that if the Democratic Front has shown its sincerity in the talks, the government must also show its sincerity.

Last week Manila announced that it has finished drafting its version of a proposed agreement on social and economic reforms to be presented to the Democratic Front negotiators in Rome in late January.

“We are ready to rumble,” chief government peace negotiator, Silvestre Bello, said.

The Democratic Front, meanwhile, announced that the major points it will press during the talks will include agrarian reform, national industrialisation, labour rights and environmental protection.

However, one of the big sticking points has been the refusal of the government to release political prisoners who have been held on spurious charges, some of them for decades.

The president, Rodrigo Duterte, wants an agreement before he signs off on their release and the Democratic Front wants them released before an agreement is signed.

The Front added that as the taste in the mouth soured a great chasm opened up between the government and the Communist peace panel, with the age-old problems of rural landlessness and poverty due to the persistence of feudalism, as well as the absence of real industrialisation, which has failed to create viable jobs for people, remaining the real problem.

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