Groups gather signatures for resumption of peace talks

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

AS ARMED conflict between the military and the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels continues to claim more lives in the spate of raids by the Maoist rebels, several groups in Cagayan de Oro gathered to begin the signature campaign for the resumption of peace talks to end the bloodshed.

"Our people aspire for and deserve a free, prosperous, and peaceful society," read a joint statement by 10 major networks from different sectors advocating genuine peace in Northern Mindanao.

The civil society groups are urging the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) "to resume peace talks now."


Signatories include the members of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF), Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), Youth of Iglesia Filipina Independiente (YIFI), United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), College Editors' Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), Community-based Health Sectors (CBHS), Karapatan Kalumbay, and Karapatan.

Around 100 members of the said groups signed the call to resume the talks and start on the social and economic reforms agenda.

Bishop Felixberto Calang of IFI told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro that the signature campaign will be forwarded to Malacañang after President Benigno Aquino III would deliver his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 28.

“Whether the President will mention the resumption of peace talks in his speech or not, the petition will still be pressed,” Calang said.

Without preconditions

The peace advocates believe these talks could pave the way to "a just and lasting peace."

"We urge both parties to sit down without preconditions and overcome the obstacles that prevent them from reopening the formal peace talks," the statement said.

The coalition said ending the conflict between the government and the revolutionary groups can benefit all people from all walks of life.

"From the sector, which composes most of the population in our country, we have observed many youths in highlands are jobless. Some of them failed to study; some are caught in the middle of the clashes," Rochamae Bihag, CEGP Mindanao vice president, told Sun.Star.

"What we encounter in our place [Balingasag] is the growing number of mining and logging activities. That's because of the military presence in our territory," said Roger Flana, Kalumbay Northern Mindanao secretary-general.

Stalled talks

The social and economic reforms item is the second of the four in the agenda of the GPH-NDF negotiations.

The first agenda, which is about human rights and international humanitarian law, had been done in 1998.

The intermittent negotiations between the government and the NDF are guided by The Hague Joint Declaration that sets the four substantive agenda of the talks.

These are respect for human rights, social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

Earlier, Calang denounced the recent spate of armed clashes in Mindanao that cost many lives, including civilians.

"We denounce the continuing skirmishes between the revolutionary forces and the government as human casualties can't be ignored," he said.

The Philippines is a signatory to the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the Fourth Geneva Convention in which both seek to protect lives, especially of the civilians.

In the website of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (Opapp), GPH chief negotiator Alexander Padilla said: “There has been no formal notification of peace talk to the government up until today.”

The proper approach, Padilla said, would have been for the NDF to inform the Royal Norwegian Government, the third party facilitator of the peace negotiations since 2001.

Tuesday last week, 21 lives were lost to attacks in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur and Quezon, Bukidnon.

Other clashes in the month of June and July had also been recorded in the provinces of Zamboanga Sibugay, Surigao del Norte, and Misamis Oriental.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on July 22, 2014.

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