PEACETALK: Celebrating God’s work for Peace: Journeying with the GRP-NDFP in the continuing struggle for Peace

(Address to the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, held at Homitori in Davao City on Sept. 20, 2016)

Our topic speaks of celebration. In a real sense we come together in celebration. Peace is in the offing. The Duterte administration has not yet reached its 100th-day milestone. Yet we are celebrating clear breakthroughs on the road to peace. We feel that peace in the centuries-old conflict between the majority of Filipino Muslims and Philippine society is within reach, despite the challenge coming from Caliphate-oriented groups; we see clear progress in resolving the festering conflict between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, including the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. After “decades of armed conflict in the country [that] have resulted in countless deaths, dislocations, much suffering among the people and a waste of scarce economic resources and development opportunities” there is enlightened recognition that “the Filipino people demand and deserve a life of peace, justice, dignity, prosperity and freedom from want and violence.”[1]

We celebrate, however, also in the hope that it is not just the genius of man and his political astuteness that is bringing about this peace, but the work of God. Ours is a God of love. We are the people he loves. War and hatred, violence and killing, selfishness and greed are hateful to him. He intervenes in this world to establish his Kingdom of justice and peace. He accomplishes this work in inviting disciples to cooperate in his will and work for peace. In celebrating his peace, we celebrate his compassion. But we also celebrate the ongoing commitment of his disciples to discern his will and effect lasting peace, no matter the cost.

We pray it not just be peace that the world brings, the superficial peace of paper arrangements, but the peace that God brings – even though we know among social revolutionaries not all recognize God. Not all have been able to discover a kind and compassionate God amidst the “poverty, structural inequity, destitution and marginalization” that beset human beings ultimately at the behest of human beings. Not all have been able to reconcile the godly with people’s indifference to human suffering and to find God in their materialism, consumerism, and addiction to endless pleasure. Similarly, among those who publicly venerate the holiness of God and his infinite love for humanity, we are scandalized by their indifference to the massive poverty, structural injustice, and social exclusion caused by greed and complacency. The peace that God brings is not indifference to this social sin, but prophecy and condemnation. Here, we have one of the true ironies of our age: the oddity that God brings peace to the world through the godless in their genuine concern for the welfare of the human being and human society; the scandal that the godly are shamed and condemned in the struggle to rescue the victims of their social injustice and greed. Perhaps, in this revolutionary irony, there is reason for celebration. God works for peace even through those do not know him. He works for peace even against those who claim to walk in his ways. He works his miracles where he wills.

Even as he also works for peace among his disciples who are able to feel for Lazarus “laying at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores” (Lk 16:21-21). They are disquieted by the stench and squalor in the hovels of the urban poor next to the palaces of the wealthy; they cannot stomach the hunger and destitution of the farmers whose produce fatten the wealthy but emaciate their children. They cannot sleep hearing of the murders of indigenous peoples’ leaders who fight for their ancestral domains and their tribal heritage against the rapaciousness of miners. They weep seeing families torn up by breadwinners forced to leave their homes and their loved ones to labor in alien countries so that life in the Philippines can be minimally humane, or families torn up because children are trafficked so siblings can eat, or families are torn up by those who make them the engines of their illegal drug trade.

God works for peace. And if we continue to hear his call, “Come follow me,” work with me, struggle with me, “the Kingdom of God is at hand,” we who are his disciples must first renew ourselves in journeying with him towards bringing our people the fullness of life that he brings. “I have come to bring life,” he declared, “life to the full” (Jn 10:10). We must ask ourselves: where are our hearts? Not long ago, the Catholic Church began a document proclaiming Gaudium et spes, Joy and hope, with the memorable words, “The joys and hope, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.” Our peoples’ treasures of family and love, their grief that their labor brings too little to the table, their anxiety that there is not enough to deal with the 5-6 creditors, their despair in making ends meet in the Philippines, their hope that working abroad might help, their anxiety that their spouses and their children are neglected, their pain when crisis cannot be overcome, must be the joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties of those who believe in journeying with Christ to bring to our people “life, life to the full.” In this context, we must raise the social question as it continues to bite painfully into our experience of Philippine life today. Why so many poor? How so, the number of rich? What is the connection between the poverty of so many with the wealth of others? The lack of “fullness” in the lives of our poor, contrasted with the scandalous oversatiation in the lives of some, even when the Church clearly teaches the “universal destination of goods” and “the social mortgage on private property”

We know the social question today, with its ugly manifestations in poverty for many and wealth for some, is not just a matter of relationships between capitalists and laborers within sovereign nations, but a whole matrix of complex relations between countries of wealth and countries of poverty, countries of oppressors and countries of oppressed which all today have little respect for national boarders. It is yet within this context that we must ask ourselves whether we wish to journey with a Lord that calls “to life, and life to the full,” and therefore to a type of development that is not development for some and the cost of others, development for the North at the cost of the South, for the West at the cost of the socialist states, for Manila at the cost of Mindanao, for the 1st class cities at the cost of the countryside, for the posh subdivisions at the cost of the urban poor, but development for the good of all, the common good. The common good is not something which is achieved by some for all, but by all committing themselves to work for all in shared solidarity. According to St. John Paul II, solidarity is “not a feeling of compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are responsible for all” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis [SRS]. 38).

It is this solidarity for the common good, a duty of the Christian, that underpins our “journeying with the GRP-NDFP in the Continuing Struggle for Peace.” I wish to prescind from many complaints on the ground that the armed struggle of the NDFP has degenerated into an armed banditry and that revolutionary taxes have been reduced to local extortion which harms the poor even more than the wealthy. In this struggle lives have been lost at the hands of those who have lost their relationship to the original Marxian commitment to the humanization of humanity, the recovery of humanity that knows itself to be human (“species being”) in its relatedness through work and service to all (communism). Indeed, its objection to private property was because it hindered this commitment of each individual to the good of all. It is contrary to Marxian goals if the self-serving ends of extortionists are confused with the humanizing ends of the revolutionary struggle. Today, where the universal destination of goods and the social mortgage on private property belong to Catholic, if not Christian, social teaching, there is every reason to walk with the GRP-NDFP in the continuing struggle for peace.

Especially so since among the principles of the working draft of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), between the GRP and NDFP of 27 April 2001 the common good is explicitly declared. “It is the common good, the welfare and interest of the Filipino people, that is the foremost concern in the efforts to resolve the armed conflict and achieve a just and lasting peace. The active participation of the people, therefore, must be sought in pursuing this common good (Sec. 2). In the Aug. 2011 version of the CASER, the consideration that the “pursuit of socio economic reforms to promote the common good and to respond to the needs of the Filipino people is crucial in considering a just and lasting peace, as able economic development” is part of its preamble. The “Pursuit of Social Justice” is integral to the pursuit of the common good. “Social justice is foundation for a lasting peace since it defines the right of people to human dignity and a decent quality of life. To achieve this, there is need to eradicate the social, economic and political inequities of society through equitable diffusion of wealth and political power for the furtherance of the common good and to free people from the bondage of poverty, inequity and marginalization” (CASER, 2001, Art 1, Sec. 4). From this follow explicit principles of the pursuit of authentic development (Sec 5), participative development (Sec 6) and the CASER as a “common ground for cooperation and collaboration” (Sec 7) in the struggle for peace.

The general goals of reform are certainly within the common good as “the fullness of life” that the Christian or any thoughtful Filipino citizen might envision. These are the titles of the document’s main articles:

“Pursuing Full Employment by Promoting Inclusive Economic Growth Through Sound Economic Policy and Sustainable Agricultural Development” (CASER, ’11, IV, Art. 1).

“Addressing Inequity Through Asset Reform to Create and Redistribute Wealth and Economic Opportunities” (ibid, Art. 2).

“Promoting Good Governance Through Efficient and Effective Delivery of Basic Services” (ibid, Art 3).

“Shielding the Marginalized and Vulnerable Sectors from Risks Through Social Protection” (ibid., Art 4).

“Addressing the Exploitation of Indigenous Peoples by Recognizing and Protecting their Right to Self Determination” (ibid, Art 5).

“Promoting Sustainable Development through the Conservation, Protection, Rehabilitation and Efficient Utilization and Development of the Environment and Natural Resources” (ibid, Art 6).

There is a vision here, I think, that the economy can promote a humane society where the labor and creativity of each individual, including those of today’s marginalized like the IPs or the Bangsamoro or the impoverished farmer and fisherman, can be freely and happily committed to the advancement of human society, where wealth and productive resources are subordinated to the achievement of this humane society, where society provides all adequate basic services and protects all against social shocks, and where development is sustainable both for the flourishing of human life as well as for the protection of our common home. This is a vision compatible with the “fullness of human life” that Jesus comes to bring, or compatible with the humanly human society the social revolutionary struggles to bring about in rejecting its truncation in “poverty, structural inequity, destitution and marginalization.”

In the commitment to journey with the GRP-NDFP “in the continuing struggle for peace,” perhaps we can end these reflections with the following considerations:

We must all renew ourselves in our felt rejection of social injustice. Peace is incompatible with social injustice. Peace is incompatible with people deprived of the lands and livelihood, their creativity and responsibility, their dignity and their humanity. We must connect to social injustice emotionally and reject it with passion.

Many people refuse to journey towards social justice because they are unable to transcend their private interests, their self-interest and their selfishness. Many will continue in their ways inimical to common good because they are unable to imagine life other than they know it. Asset reform is inconceivable, a more sustainable economy for human life only someone’s else’s project for self-advancement. This intransigence is objectionable both social revolutionary as well as to the Christian committed to the common good.

In solidarity, nevertheless, we must commit ourselves to that future set of conditions where all human beings, none excepted, flourish as human beings. We must be able to imagine, dream, conceive, plan, and demand human flourishing. We cannot capitulate to the lie that what the economy and social order today offer with its boundless consumerism, environmental destruction, dehumanizing poverty and social exclusion is “the good life” and much less, “the fullness of life.”

In solidarity we must cooperate to bring about the common good. We cannot leave the common good to peace negotiators or to a political administration or to legislators or to economic planners or even to social revolutionaries. The common good is something that we must own. Owning it, we must discuss it, imagine it, plan it, advocate it, negotiate for it, struggle for it, and if necessary, fight for it, not for the short term but for the long term. Only in the shared achievement of the common good, where we overcome the centrifugal forces of our private interests, shall we find peace.

Finally, considering the God who calls us to solidarity in achieving “the fullness of life,” it is not religion that is necessarily the opium of the people, but today a concept of development based on material having, production for unbridled consumption, consequent destruction of the environment, and reduction of the human being to a crazed consumer caught in the man-made deception that having more is being more. This is something to consider even as we evaluate the assumptions behind the economic growth the GRP-NDFP envisions for the future with its concommitant exploitation of natural resources. The acknowledgement of a transcendent God who works for peace on earth may be a liberating step against many obstacles to advance a peace we undertake to achieve on our own. Social injustice is not just a social evil. It is a sin against God. It is not just alienation of man from his humanity. It is alienation of man from his transcendence. One may seek to combat social injustice as if there were no God. But there is a God. And combatting social injustice in appreciation of divine justice may be practically appropriate. The fullness of life that God brings is not in the alienation of endless material consumption, but in overcoming human alienation in spiritual recovery. God works for this. We work with God. We, together, journey with him. We pray for true peace. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. F.r Joel Tabora, SJ is the President of the Ateneo de Davao University)