Bishop says fate of GRP-NDFP peace talks rests on Duterte

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 2 July) – Only President Rodrigo Duterte can “salvage” the peace negotiations between government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) from collapsing, a leader of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente said.

In a statement issued on Monday, Bishop Felixberto Calang said withdrawing from the talks would not only mean the government “unbinding itself from the agreements but also from its commitment to a just and lasting peace.”

Calang, main convenor of Sowing the Seeds of Peace, said Duterte, who ordered a three-month suspension of the 5thround of talks to consult the “bigger table” and review the previously signed agreements, can save or kill the peace process.

He said Duterte can “either go the way of a benevolent leader and leave a legacy of genuine peace based on social justice or he can force this peace upon the nation with the brutalities of all-out war.”

The bishop said “salvage,” or loosely translated to “salbids” in Cebuano, could also mean “extrajudicial killing” involving a drug addict, a suspected criminal, or a communist during the Marcos dictatorship.

He feared the GRP-NDFP peace talks would suffer a similar fate.

“For the GRP to cancel the peace talks to allow a 3-month review by the AFP in order to ultimately justify the GRP’s withdrawal from the 1992 Joint Hague Declaration is truly living up to the word ‘salbids’,” he said.

He said the President can save the peace negotiations by reaffirming its commitment to the 1992 Joint Hague Declaration and all agreements and keeping his desire to leave a legacy of peace by delivering on his promises to NDFP peace panel chair Fidel Agacaoili, sent by Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison in Davao City when he was still President-elect in 2016.

In a statement on June 30, Sison expressed concern that the three-month suspension would result in demands “that would render impossible the resumption of peace negotiations.”

Calang asked Duterte to give Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and GRP peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III “authentic delegated authority from the President to speak and uphold civilian supremacy and interests in the negotiations; their ability to negotiate should not be contravened or dictated upon by the security cluster.”

He added Duterte must create a conducive and enabling environment by lifting martial law in Mindanao and Proclamation 374 designating the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, as terrorist organizations.

Calang warned the President would kill the peace talks if he makes the security cluster the virtual head of the GRP negotiating panel, demand only the surrender and submission of the NDFP instead of seeking the middle ground in order to resolve the roots of the armed conflict, makes the bilateral ceasefire agreement as the end-all of the negotiations instead of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), and resorts to an intensified all-out war which is directed against civilians especially the Lumad, Moro, and farmers of Mindanao.

The supposed resumption of the 5th round of talks on June 28 to 30 in Oslo, Norway was cancelled after Duterte told the GRP panel to engage the “bigger table” before working out agreements with the communists.

Both panels would have discussed CASER, which is seen to address the almost 50-year old armed conflict. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews