Achieving real peace

September 19, 2019

by Xandra Liza C. Bisenio

The system is abusing the word “peace” while refusing to take the necessary steps to make it real

“Peace negotiations, not all-out war,” was the theme of a forum that I and some workmates attended recently. It was organized by the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Pilgrims for Peace, and Kapayapaan (Movement for a just and lasting peace). Bishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro discussed the rise and fall of peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), while Dr. Judy Taguiwalo narrated the state of human rights “in the time of monsters”.

Also shared were messages from other peace advocates that criticized the Duterte administration’s authoritarianism: The anti-drug offensive has killed tens of thousands mostly poor. Martial law in Mindanao has entailed upped rights violations in the country’s so-called food basket, and over one hundred thousand Maranaos are still unable to return home to their pulverized city. Executive Order 70 (EO70) has institutionalized even more rights violations such as state-sponsored killings, arrests on trumped up charges, forced evacuation and bombing of communities, harassment, and vilification against the basic sectors, activists and rights defenders.

The case of Negros island where farmers and their supporters from the ranks of lawyers and local government are being massacred by state forces by virtue of their Oplan Sauron was underscored. This is in line with Memorandum Order 32, under which additional police and military forces were deployed in Negros, Bicol and Samar “to suppress lawless violence and acts of terror.” According to Bishop Gerard Alimasa, the killings must stop and peace talks should be held instead.

Addressing the roots of conflict

The bishop was calling to choose a platform of dialogue over a military approach. An arena of proposals and unity building no matter how difficult, dialoguing can yield various parties’ commitment to common aspirations. The peace talks in the Philippines aimed to resolve the roots of armed conflict by forging agreements between government and the NDFP on the substantive agenda of human rights, social and economic reforms, and political and constitutional reforms. It was through this that the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) was crafted and signed towards 1998.

But the current administration chose to end the peace negotiations late last year, right when an agreement on social and economic reforms was about to be forged. The comprehensive reforms include agrarian reform and rural development, national industrialization, upholding the rights of all working and indigenous people, environmental protection and economic independence. It was like throwing a chance for painstakingly formed solutions to the country’s social and economic problems out of the window – for what?

War and deception

After unilaterally terminating the national-level peace talks tackling comprehensive social and economic reforms, government directed all of its agencies to execute their respective EO70-abiding plans supposedly in order to “end all insurgency”. It now boasts of endeavoring towards “inclusive peace and development” by delivering social services straight to the communities or on a local level.

But poverty and inequality will persist as long as government’s neoliberal, “free market” national policy is not reoriented – this includes a regressive tax system, liberalization of agriculture and manufacturing, privatization and deregulation of public utilities and goods, commercialization of services, labor flexibilization, and unequal economic ties with other countries.  There are still 66 million Filipinos living on Php125 or less per day; majority of consumers have to pay consumption taxes and are subject to user fees for water, electricity, and even education, health and shelter; the share of agriculture in the economy is down to 8% and falling; manufacturing is mostly foreign-controlled; contractualization remains rampant. Yet the oligarchs are getting richer no end, and government plans to allow foreigners to fully own the country’s resources, services, and utilities through Charter change.

Meanwhile, led by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), government will also be “negotiating peace” with so-called local dissidents.

But it continues to target marginalized sectors, activists, and advocates, with an array of attacks ranging from vilification and harassment to outright killings.

Indeed, no amount of packaging can conceal the fact that state-perpetrated attacks on rights asserters continue to escalate since President Duterte assumed office. Over 260 mostly peasants and indigenous people have been extrajudicially killed, over 500 imprisoned on trumped-up charges, and almost 380,000 forcibly evacuated from their resource-rich or profit-potential abodes. These are on top of the 27,000 reportedly executed under the anti-drug war.

Sugar-coating this bloody “peace and development” drive attempts to make acceptable government’s continuation and intensification of a failed business-biased framework. On the contrary however, all the deception, violence, and aggravation of poverty, inequality, and underdevelopment, will only further stir social unrest. And drive up the volume of voices calling for a genuinely just and lasting peace.

Just peace now

I added my voice to this call through this composition, published by the League of Authors of Public Interest Songs (LAPIS) in 2016:

Kapayapaan, Ngayon Na// O bayan kay tagal mo nang naghihinagpis/ Problema ng kahirapan kay tagal nang tinitiis/ Dukha’t mayaman lumalaki ang agwat/ Nasaan ang sinasabing pag-angat?// Walang lupa walang bahay walang trabaho/ Walang pambayad sa eskwela, walang benepisyo/ Kultura’t kabuhayan, sinaklot na ng dayuhan/ Dayong isip, dayong produkto at patakaran

Chorus / Kung posible ba’t hindi gawin ang nararapat para sa bayan?/ Sa lahat ng pagkakataon, dapat lamang tumugon/ tayo na ang tutugon/ Kapayapaan, ngayon na

Lupa sa magsasaka, sahod na sapat/ Pagkain at tahanan, edukasyon at kalusugan/ Pangarap na mamamaya’y bumabangon/ Makitang bayan ay totoong sumusulong (Chorus) //

Mamamayang malayang gumawa ng tama/ Kalikasang inaaruga at sandigan sa pag-unlad/ Bayang may respeto sa buhay/ Bayang busog at nagpapanday (Chorus)

Photo by Janess Ellao / Bulatlat