The Church: facing the challenge of making peace a reality

Paper presented by Ms. LEVIE C. EBIO

NDFP-Joint Secretariat Nominee

Church leaders and organizations have played different important direct and indirect roles at key moments of the peace negotiations. There is no one fixed or constant role because this is a dynamic and evolving process, depending on context and changing circumstance. What is important is the readiness to be involved in a meaningful way and being able to recognize the need of the moment and to act accordingly.

Paper presented by Ms. LEVIE C. EBIO

NDFP-Joint Secretariat Nominee

Paper presented at the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) Visayas Regional Consultation-Workshop on Peace and Reconciliation Issues, March 5-6, 2008, Balay Kalinungan, University of St. La Salle, Bacolod City. This is an updated version of a Paper entitled “The Role of Church Leaders in Moving the Peace Process Forward” presented by Atty. Edre U. Olalia during the Church Leaders Workshop on Peace on November 7, 2007 in Tagaytay City, Philippines.


Your Excellencies, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of Atty. Edre U. Olalia, legal consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines Monitoring Committee (NDFP-MC) and a fellow independent nominee in the NDFP Joint Secretariat (NDFP-JS), I wish to thank the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) and the Norwegian Ecumenical Peace Platform (NEPP), and other organizers for your kind invitation to Atty. Olalia to give a presentation on how the church and lay leaders can rise to the challenge of making peace in the Philippines a living, breathing reality.

Owing to a previous commitment and long-standing schedule, Atty. Olalia cannot be with us today, but I will endeavor to deliver a review and update on the peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDFP, including insights on the latest social and political developments which have a direct impact on the prospects of the peace negotiations and the country’s immediate future. I must emphasize, however, that I am speaking here not as a member of the NDFP but only as an independent nominee in the NDFP-JS in so far as I understand the views of the NDFP.

Status of the Peace Negotiations

As you know, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines considers the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the NDFP to be still ongoing.

It is true that the NDFP postponed the scheduled round of formal talks in August 2004 in Oslo to give the GRP time to comply with its obligations as provided for in the Oslo I and II Joint Statements (14 February 2004 and 1 April 2004, respectively) and in accordance with all previously signed agreements between the two Parties since The Hague Joint Declaration on September 1, 1992.

Instead of making the effort to comply with its obligations, the GRP showed bad faith in December 2004 by altogether suspending the formal talks in the peace negotiations. It has since insisted in holding only informal or exploratory talks with the NDFP and refusing to sign any joint statement on points agreed upon.

Then, in August 2005, the GRP unilaterally suspended the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), a bilateral agreement that was intended to “facilitate the peace negotiations, create a favorable atmosphere conducive to free discussion and movement during the peace negotiations, and avert any incident that may jeopardize the peace negotiations.”

The NDFP views the suspension of the JASIG declared by the GRP as invalid. Suspension is not provided for in the JASIG; it only provides for its termination thirty days after written notice by one Party to the other. The NDFP also holds that all previous agreements signed with the GRP remain valid, binding and effective.

During the last round of informal talks from August 28-30, 2005 in Oslo, the GRP informed the NDFP that the GRP Negotiating Panel is only mandated to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with the NDFP and not to resume the formal talks.

On August 27, 2005, the National Council of the NDFP issued a proposal entitled “Concise Agreement for an Immediate Just Peace”, a sincere gesture on the part of the revolutionary movement to move the peace negotiations forward. It proposes the signing of a peace agreement consisting of ten points of substantive general statements of principles and policies in the national and democratic interests of the Filipino people.

The NDFP National Council categorically stated that “(T)he civil war between the GRP and the NDFP shall cease and a just peace shall ensue on the very day that the GRP and the NDFP sign the proposed concise agreement. Alliance and truce then become the modus vivendi of the GRP and the NDFP.”

The proposal was handed to the GRP delegation on August 28 who chose to disregard it as inconsequential. Yet it was a bold proposal which showed that the NDFP is not averse to a ceasefire or truce for as long as it does not set aside or obscure the people's demands for major reforms.

Since then, the peace negotiations have been in a state of limbo with neither Party taking the initiative to formally inform the other in writing of the termination of the JASIG and consequently of the peace negotiations 30 days thereafter.

Meanwhile, since 2003, there has been a marked escalation in the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, from extrajudicial killings, disappearances, illegal arrests and detention, torture of suspects, intimidation, harassment and abuse, to the indiscriminate strafing of houses and the artillery and aerial bombardments of civilian communities in the countryside that have led to the displacement of millions of people and the deaths of children, women and old people due to illness and disease in makeshift evacuation centers. All these are happening in pursuance of the GRP’s counterinsurgency program dubbed Oplan Bantay Laya I and II and its declaration to defeat the revolutionary movement militarily by 2010. This has since become a prejudicial issue for the NDFP.

The Joint Monitoring Committee and the Joint Secretariat

Despite these developments, the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), which was established in February 2004 as mandated by the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), continues to function, albeit not as fully and effectively as envisioned.

The GRP essentially admitted this when it reported on October 30, 2007 to the Third Committee of the Sixty-second United Nations General Assembly in New York that the peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDFP includes mechanisms to jointly monitor human rights violations of both sides. What the GRP failed to mention was that it has practically paralyzed said mechanism with its deliberate refusal to allow its component in the JMC to meet with its counterpart component in the NDFP so the JMC can perform its task as provided for in the CARHRIHL to carry out joint fact-finding investigations of submitted complaints of alleged violations of human rights by both parties.

Nevertheless, the inability of the JMC to meet did not prevent the offices of the Joint Secretariat (JS) from performing their assigned tasks with the support of the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG). The JS has continued to receive submissions of complaints of alleged violations of human rights by both Parties, putting these in database for documentation and study, providing training on the CARHRIHL and the proper submission of complaints, coming out with publications on the peace talks, CARHRIHL and the results of their studies on the submitted complaints, and making recommendations to their respective Monitoring Committees (MCs) in the JMC.

From June 4, 2004 to December 31, 2007, the JS received 3,018 submissions or complaint forms. Of these, the GRP-JS received 1,227 while the NDFP-JS received 1,791. For more than two years, the NDFP-JS had only 123 submissions. Then on November 8, 2006, the Judge Advocate General’s Service (JAGS) of the AFP filed 1,373 submissions, most of which were deemed nuisance by the NDFP-MC for containing nothing more than bare, terse and formulaic allegations such as “shot to death/summarily executed” by CTs or communist terrorists, without data and narration of incidents. There is even a complaint form that is completely blank except for the signature of the complaining JAGS officer.

These are some of the highlights of a study that the NDFP-MC and NDFP-JS will soon publish on the 3,018 submissions of complaints with the JMC. You are the first to hear and get a preview of the study. In the immediate future we will provide you, as well as the other participants in your previous seminars, with a copy of the study. Thus we are requesting the secretariat of the PEPP to provide us with a list of the addresses of your participants.

Impediments to the Peace Negotiations

To understand the reasons for the impasse in the peace negotiations, we need to carefully study the letter and spirit of the agreements signed between the NDFP and GRP to learn the respective obligations and responsibilities that the two Parties have committed to uphold and comply, whether jointly or separately, to successfully carry out the peace negotiations. This would help us to see where the failure and faults lie and, hopefully, find the spaces for appropriate intervention to resolve the impasse.

According to the Chairperson of the NDFP Negotiating Panel Mr. Luis Jalandoni, the GRP put up major impediments to the continuation of the peace negotiations. In order for the formal talks to resume, these impediments must be removed to create a more favorable atmosphere for the talks. Some of these impediments are:

  • the declaration of all-out war against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army (NPA) and the NDFP with the objective of wiping them up by 2010;

  • the demand for the capitulation of the revolutionary forces through an indefinite ceasefire without first addressing the roots of the armed conflict;

  • the move to hold negotiations at the local level for the purpose of splitting the revolutionary forces;

  • the brutal campaigns of military and police suppression causing the uprooting of more than a million people;

  • the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of more than 1,000 unarmed legal activists;

  • the failure of the Arroyo regime to comply with its obligations in Oslo Joint Statements I and II regarding the terrorist blacklisting of the CPP, the NPA and Prof. Jose Maria Sison, the NDFP Chief Political Consultant;

  • the failure of the Arroyo government to compensate the victims of human rights violations under the Marcos regime; and,

  • the false charges against Prof. Sison resulting in his unjust arrest, detention and continuing persecution and the Dutch police raids on the NDFP Information Office and homes of NDFP negotiating panelists, consultants and staffers.

Doing away with these impediments is not a precondition but a matter of compliance by the GRP with existing agreements with the NDFP. If the comparatively simple and more straightforward matters such as the above cannot be resolved by the GRP, how can it be expected to resolve in peace negotiations with the NDFP the country's enormous social, economic, political and cultural problems?

Implications of the arrest of Prof. Sison and the raid on the NDFP International Information Office

The arrest on August 28, 2007 of Prof. Jose Maris Sison, NDFP Chief Political Consultant, and the raids on the NDFP International Information Office and the residences of NDFP panelists, consultants and staffers pose serious obstacles in the resumption of formal peace talks.

The attack on the NDFP and its Negotiating Panel is an unprecedented attack on a national liberation movement. It was not done on the offices and to the representatives of the African National Congress and the Palestine Liberation Organization in The Netherlands during the Cold War period. It is a blatant violation of the established rights of oppressed nations and peoples to self-determination and for national and social liberation.

The hostile actions of the Dutch authorities, in collusion with the US and the Macapagal-Arroyo regime, are a systematic and gross attempt to cripple the capabilities and drain the resources of the NDFP and its Negotiating Panel for peace negotiations. They are calculated to blackmail the NDFP and its Negotiating Panel and put them under duress in order to pressure them to capitulate or to surrender under the pretext of a prolonged ceasefire. It was a blatant attempt to completely scuttle the peace talks, without addressing the root causes of the armed conflict through fundamental social, economic and political reforms as required by The Hague Joint Declaration, the framework agreement for the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

It must be said that the hostile actions of the Dutch authorities constitute a serious act of sabotage of the peace talks. They constitute a gross disrespect for and direct attack on the NDFP and its Negotiating Panel. They have rendered inhospitable the environment for the NDFP and its Negotiating Panel in The Netherlands and the whole of Europe, negating the status of the European Union and its member states as a neutral foreign venue.

Because of this, it may be necessary at the appropriate time and circumstance to transfer the venue of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations from Europe to another venue, even as the Royal Norwegian Government continues as the main facilitator and main supporter of the peace negotiations.

The continuing persecution of Professor Sison

While Prof. Sison has been released from detention for insufficiency of evidence by virtue of the decision of the District Court of The Hague on September 13, 2007, which decision was subsequently affirmed in much stronger terms by the Court of Appeal on October 3, 2007, declaring the charges against him to be politically motivated and the witnesses against him unreliable, the persecution of Prof. Sison continues.

Despite the two court decisions and the ruling on November 21, 2007 of the examining judge that there was no more reason to continue with the investigation of Prof. Sison, the Dutch prosecutor in January of this year took the unusual move of disregarding the judiciary that is reminiscent of the prosecutors of Raul Gonzalez. She claimed that the examining judge made a mistake in declaring the ‘untimely closure of the preliminary investigation’, informing Prof. Sison that the police will continue with its investigation against him till June 2008 in the exercise of her prosecutorial prerogative.

There are also indications that the Dutch prosecutor may expand the charges against him to include war crimes in order to circumvent the rigorous rule of evidence of direct and personal responsibility in a case of murder to the rule of command responsibility. But it is utterly ridiculous for the Dutch prosecutor to charge Prof. Sison with war crimes under international law when the GRP itself does not recognize the NDFP as a belligerent force in the armed conflict and the GRP is the one actuality guilty of crimes against humanity in its all out war against the revolutionary movement as validated by numerous reports of independent and respected human right groups and church organizations, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Execeutions, Prof. Philip Alston, World Council of Churches and the US Method Church, among others.

Only recently, on February 28, 2008, the lawyers of Prof. Sison in his case before the Court of First Instance in Luxembourg against the arbitrary “terrorist listing”, have received notification from the European Council, citing portions of the court decisions of the District Court of The Hague and the Court of Appeal as a new juridical basis for his inclusion in the “terrorist list”.

What a malicious spin to two favorable decisions that found no prima facie evidence against him for the charges of inciting to murder. The same decisions are now used to find him criminally liable for the crime of “terrorism” for allegedly playing a prominent role in the CPP and NPA. It was as if Prof. Sison as a Filipino citizen has no freedom of expression to speak or write about the Philippine situation or that the NDFP Negotiating Panel and consultants have no right to receive communications from the revolutionary leadership in the Philippines whom they are representing in peace negotiations or to relate with Filipinos abroad and foreign solidarity groups in carrying out campaigns in support of the Filipino people’s legitimate demand for national and social liberation.

This makes very clear the collusion among the US, Dutch and the Macapagal-Arroyo governments in the persecution of Prof. Sison. This also means that for as long as the corrupt, brutal and subservient Macapagal-Arroyo regime stays in power, the persecution of Prof. Sison will continue and the peace negotiations will be set aside.

The Macapagal-Arroyo Regime as the main obstacle to peace

The Macapagal-Arroyo regime itself remains the biggest obstacle to peace. It has put up the impediments previously mentioned that paralyzed the peace negotiations. It has colluded with US and Dutch authorities to directly attack the NDFP Negotiating Panel and its chief political consultant Prof. Sison. Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo's scandalous career of corruption and plunder, gross and systematic violation of human rights and subservience to the worst impositions of foreign and local reactionary interests has not only aggravated the country's social, economic, political, cultural and moral crisis but has also rendered the resumption of peace negotiations under her regime fundamentally unacceptable.

The Macapagal-Arroyo regime is obsessed with the objective of seeking the outright military destruction of the CPP, NPA and the NDFP by 2010. Along the way, it wishes to set aside the framework of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations established in The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992.

When his term was extended in January, Armed Forces Chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said that he would spend the next three months leading the military in tearing down more than 15 guerrilla fronts of the NPA. Suffice it to say, however, the GRP military victory over the NPA looks as elusive as ever. Despite the arrogant posturing of the likes of Esperon, there is no way that the GRP can achieve the military defeat of the revolutionary movement before or by 2010. In fact, even Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo’s own generals have begun to admit that both the timetable and the stated ultimate objective are unrealistic.

The Macapagal-Arroyo regime has set as main precondition for the resumption of peace talks the capitulation of the NDFP with the demand for an indefinite ceasefire. It has laid down this precondition for allegedly moving the peace negotiations forward, without making any reference to the need for reaching agreements on social, economic and political reforms. Such insistence are in clear violation of The Hague Joint Declaration which stipulates that no side shall seek to impose on the other any precondition that will negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations.

As a matter of revolutionary principle, the NDFP cannot agree to the surrender and pacification of the revolutionary forces and people under the guise of an indefinite ceasefire. The Arroyo regime has no right to demand that the agenda on social, economic and political reforms be set aside or for the peace negotiations to be converted to talks of surrender and pacification.

There is no room for doubt that the Arroyo regime is not at all interested in getting down to the brass tacks of addressing the roots of the armed conflict. Daily we see and hear how deep the regime’s obsession is with the so-called military solution, proven by its constant demands for the pacification and surrender of the revolutionary forces; by its instigation of sham localized talks and its offer of bogus amnesty and rehabilitation programs for fake and ghost surrenderees.

Continuing attacks on peace consultants in violation of the JASIG

The regime has been relentless in its campaign to criminalize, arrest, murder and disappear NDFP consultants. Just recently, on January 28, 2008, Mr. Randall Echanis, member of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee (RWC) on Social, Economic Reforms (SER) was illegally arrested by the Arroyo regime’s police agents in Bago City, Negros Occidental while attending a conference of agricultural workers in preparation for a national rural congress.

His arrest is a flagrant violation of the JASIG considering that Mr. Echanis is publicly known as a member of the NDFP official delegation to the peace talks and also known to the officials of the Royal Norwegian Government, the Third Party Facilitator in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

The charges against Mr. Echanis are patently false. He was arrested in 1983 and kept in solitary confinement first in Camp Aguinaldo under then Col. Gregorio Honasan, and then in Tuguegarao, Cagayan until his release in March 1986 with the downfall of the Marcos regime. Despite these established facts, he is being accused of an alleged crime that supposedly took place in 1984-1985.

Mr. Echanis’ arrest is the latest in a series of gross violations of the JASIG and CARHRIHL perpetrated by the Macapagal-Arroyo regime against members, consultants and staffers of the NDFP.

The illegal arrest, torture and detention of NDFP regional consultant Mr. Emeterio Antalan and his staff Mr. Edgardo V. Friginal is another example. Mr. Antalan, 48, and Friginal, 41, were beaten up, kicked and hit with rifle butts by 10 soldiers of the joint forces of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army of the AFP and PNP on November 28, 2007 in Barangay Dimasalang Norte, Talavera, Nueva Ecija.

The GRP has also made the patently ridiculous accusation against Ms. Elizabeth Principe,wife of disappeared NDFP consultant Leo Velasco, of allegedly having taken part in a ‘left-right conspiracy’ with the group of Brig. General Danilo Lim and Sen. Antonio Trillanes who led the takeover of the Hotel Peninsula in Makati November 29 last year.

Officials of the Macapagal-Arroyo regime including executive secretary Eduardo Ermita and Gen. Avelino Razon have made the wild allegation that the presence of NDFP consultant Ms. Principe in Quezon City on the day of her abduction on November 28, 2007, the day before the Peninsula takeover, was proof of the conspiracy. Ms. Principe has explained that she was in Manila in connection with her role as NDFP consultant. She also had to attend to personal matters, such as undergoing medical examination and more importantly, continuing the search for her husband NDFP consultant Leo Velasco who was himself abducted in February 19, 2007.

The mass upsurge against a morally bankrupt and tyrannical regime

The social and political circumstances in recent weeks point towards a most serious crisis of governance for the incumbent regime. If I am not mistaken, everyone here must have participated in one form or another in the massive upsurge over the arrogant display of power by the regime in the kidnapping of Mr. Jun Lozada and the attempted cover-up. The depth and extent of corruption in government that Mr. Lozada subsequently revealed in the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigations on the scrapped anomalous ZTE-National Broadband Network (NBN) contract has been staggering, to say the least. We may yet again witness the phenomenon of People Power succeeding in removing this fake president.

The public anger and outrage generated by the $330-million ZTE national broadband scandal has not simmered down but continues to spread and intensify. According to a recent survey by Pulse Asia conducted from February 21 to 24, 2008, seven in ten residents of Metro Manila (69 percent) are willing to support protest actions like prayer rallies or demonstrations calling for the resignation of government officials linked to the ZTE-NBN controversy. The Interfaith Rally last February 29 in Ayala saw 75,000 Filipinos from all sectors of society taking to the streets and demanding for the resignation of Macapagal-Arroyo and for an end to corruption in government.

Contrary to public perception, the extrajudicial killings and disappearances continue, albeit not in the same magnitude and extent during the past couple of years. Not one perpetrator has been tried, convicted or punished for the crimes. This just shows the extent to which impunity in the country under the regime has reached.

How does the NDFP see the chances of the peace talks resuming under the current circumstances? Prof. Jose Ma. Sison has said that the prospects are bright for the resumption of formal talks between the NDFP and the GRP if Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is removed from the office she usurped through massive electoral fraud and maintains using brute force, threats, blackmail and “lagay”. The NDFP welcomes the possibility of returning to the negotiating table with the government that will succeed the incumbent regime.

The regime’s immediate removal from power can be a significant step towards a just peace if a new leadership of the GRP would cooperate with the NDFP in addressing the roots of the armed conflict through social, economic, political and constitutional reforms in accordance with The Hague Joint Declaration and other agreements already signed and approved by the GRP and NDFP. A new GRP regime would do well to study the NDFP proposal of co-signing the concise agreement to end the civil war and achieve a just peace.

In the end, it is indisputable that the social, economic, political, cultural and moral crisis of Philippine society continues and continues to worsen. Apart from the small gang of hawks in the Macapgal-Arroyo regime represented in the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COCIS), there is broad agreement among different sectors in Philippine society, including church leaders, that the resumption of formal talks in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations is an important component to the solution of the problems confronting the nation.

The role of the Churches as the people of God

In the Philippines, the Churches are still viewed as the moral compass of the nation. In these trying times, so much is demanded of them in taking an active role in helping to bring about a regime change that would at the minimum mitigate the situation of their fellowmen or at the maximum liberate them from the clutches of poverty towards basic reforms in the socio-economic system of the country.

Church leaders and organizations have played different important direct and indirect roles at key moments of the peace negotiations. There is no one fixed or constant role because this is a dynamic and evolving process, depending on context and changing circumstance. What is important is the readiness to be involved in a meaningful way and being able to recognize the need of the moment and to act accordingly.

The regime is fast unraveling. It is not for the Churches to sit idly by while the storm of protests is gathering force or, worse, to stand in its path in an attempt to break its speed and put it to a stop. The Churches as people of God need to get involved in the aspirations of their fellowmen for a truly free and just society.

What should be clear is that in thinking about the issue of peace and in particular of the resumption of peace negotiations, Church leaders should think about the host of other problems that today confront our country. These are the subject of the next two topics in the substantive agenda of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations: socio-economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms.

I would like to end by quoting from the paper read by Atty. Olalia during the Tagaytay seminar.

If we are able to stop the killings, abductions and other violations of the rights of activists, peasants, workers, church people, journalists, lawyers and others, remove the conditions that engender them, and make the violators accountable, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

If we are able to stop the destruction of our environment and the plunder of our natural resources by greedy local and foreign interests, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

If we are able to provide schooling, basic medicines and nutrition to all our children, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

If we are able to provide adequate employment, job security and a living wage for all our workers, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

If we are able to give back the land to our farmers, free them from the shackles of penury, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

If we are able to uplift the masses of the people from grinding and humiliating poverty and reduce the immense social and economic inequality in our society, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

If we are able to stop the lying and stealing by those who claim to be our leaders but who use their offices for self-serving gain, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

And if we are able to determine our own future and reap the benefits of our resources for the greater majority of our people, without any intervention or dictates from foreign stranglehold, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

Now, more than ever, the issue of peace is an invitation to be involved in helping solve our country's social, economic, political, cultural and moral crisis. It is an invitation that we as Filipinos cannot refuse. Let’s all work for the removal of Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo from power to get the peace negotiations moving!