‘Local peace talks good but…’

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 29 June) – They heard inspiring stories on local peace initiatives, from sitio Lantad in Barangay Kibanban in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental, a former New People’s Army stronghold, to a village in Sultan Naga Dimaporo town in Lanao del Norte that serves as the base of a breakaway rebel group.

But participants to the two-day Northeastern Mindanao Religious Leaders’ Peace Summit which ended Friday expressed reservations on the efficacy of local peace initiatives vis-à-vis the imperiled peace process between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF).

Outgoing Misamis Oriental Governor Oscar Moreno said the provincial government achieved peace in Lantad by pouring in development projects that the people themselves asked for. He stressed that they did it not as part of counterinsurgency but to show government sincerity.

“Serbisyo lang,” he said, adding that even the military learned from what the local government did in Lantad.

During the 1980s, Lantad became the seat of the revolutionary movement in Northern Mindanao. The NDF even issued “land titles” to local farmers and formed a shadow government complete with a “mayor”.

Paquito Daao, village chief of Kibanban, said the delivery of social services and development projects has brought back peace to Lantad. He added the present situation is a far cry from the time that the area became a “no man’s land” owing to the armed conflict between the military and the New People’s Army (NPA), armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

“Lantad is a good story, but how many Oca (Moreno) will emerge? And is Lantad the only area with this kind of problem? What about the other areas?” Bishop Antonio Ablon of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) in Misamis Occidental said.

“Naay padulngan ang ginagmayng paglihok, ang problema inig hawa sa usa ka opisyal (Small initiatives produce results, the problem is when an official leaves),” Ablon said.

He, however, maintained that local initiatives cannot be a substitute for national level ones.

“A good example is President Aquino’s executive order on mining which has stripped local officials of any role in it,” he said.

Fr. Chris Ablon, of the IFI in Libona, Bukidnon called the development of Lantad a rare case. “Many areas outside Lantad are still suffering.”

He said that for development to be more encompassing there is a need to institute national level initiatives such as pursuing the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, the second item in the four-point Hague Joint Declaration signed by GPH and the NDF in 1973.

Pastor Nasali Silava of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches said that what applies to a barangay where problems are more physical may not be applicable in a national setting. “This is an ideological problem…this is about worldviews.”

For his part, Col. Jessie Alvarez, chief of staff of the 4th Infantry Division, said he believes the local government prioritized Lantad because “it is a symbol of resistance, and we don’t have many resources.”

Charlito Manlupig, president of Balay Mindanaw Foundation Inc., shared their experience as independent secretariat in the peace process between the government and the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa sa Mindanao (RPMM).

The group broke away from the mainstream communist-led armed movement at the height of the internal debate that wracked the Left in the early 1990s.

Manlupig said it was the first localized peace process that reached an agreement. “However, the new administration (Aquino III) decided to suspend this process saying it wanted to focus on the talks with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and the NDF.”

“It (GPH-RPMM peace process) is no longer in the OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) website,” he added.

Pastor Cobbie Palm, who works in the secretariat of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), said that while localized talks may be enough with groups like the RPMM, it’s a different thing with the NDF.

“They have a chain of command. What is resolved locally may not be binding on the top. There is a need not to cut off that bigger picture [in trying to resolve conflicts at the local level],” he cautioned.

Fr. Emman Silvosa of Siargao said local negotiations are not needed if both parties at the national level are sincere.

But he emphasized that the government should not be the first to withdraw from the talks.

UCCP Bishop Modesto Villasanta meanwhile said that church people can contribute to the peace efforts by acting as a third party in securing the release of soldiers who may be held by the NPA as “prisoners of war.”

He said they have done this in Compostela Valley province where the NPA has captured a number of soldiers. “We helped because we know that their families are really anxious [over their safety].”

He said they have done the same thing for rebels captured by the military. “Some were released on condition that they would go back to their families.”

GPH-NDF peace negotiations began in 1986 under President Corazon Aquino. Aside from the national level talks and the nationwide ceasefire observed by both parties, regional NDF leaders and government officials held local talks usually with Church personalities as facilitators, until the January 1987 Mendiola Massacre which led to the collapse of the negotiation.

Talks resumed in 1992 under President Fidel V. Ramos. This time the NDF explicitly stated it would no longer allow local negotiations and scrapped the idea of a ceasefire as a precondition [to the talks].

The Aquino government has raised the possibility of pursuing localized talks. But the CPP has insisted that only the NDF negotiating panel is authorized to engage the government in peace negotiations.

The summit, held at the San Jose Minor Seminary, this city was organized by PEPP, a group composed of various Christian churches and groups in the country, including the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the National Council of Churches of the Philippines.