LUGAR LANG| Peace is the Raison d’Etre

ON 24 February, a day before the annual commemoration of the EDSA People Power revolution, a peace forum was held in Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) entitled “Journey to Peace: Overcoming the Obstacles.” Organized by the Women’s Alliance for True Change (WATCH) in cooperation with the University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council (UCEAC) of ADDU and the city’s Integrated Gender Development Division (IGDD), the forum was designed to gain greater public appreciation for the importance of continuing the peace talks between the Philippine government and the CNN (Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic Front/New People’s Army).

This forum was quite different from the first one held last September 2016 after the first round of peace talks in Norway. This was bigger, more significant, and urgent. While the first one was a report of the happy journey so far, this one was tinged with a despondent shade caused by President Duterte’s sudden termination of the peace talks and angry declaration of all-out war with the CNN. Thus, each speaker seemed to be tasked with bringing some light, some hope, mostly based on the president’s recent statement about resuming the peace talks if he is given a “compelling reason.”

Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, president of ADDU, set the tone of the event in his welcome remarks when he explained that the struggle for peace is rooted in the “deep desire for social justice” and providing the marginalized sectors with what is due. He strongly affirmed that peace cannot be achieved through war. It was a sentiment reiterated by Lyda Canson, convenor of WATCH, who reminded us of the consequences of war: displacement, needless deaths, and the bereaved families, especially the orphans. Clearly, war is not a simple matter of rhetoric—real lives are lost and destroyed in the fighting.

Congress representative Ariel Casilao of Anak Pawis party gave a brief history of the peace process, which began in 1987, as part of the gains of the EDSA revolution and the overthrow of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. He stressed the importance of using the phrase “peace warriors” rather than “advocates” because it calls for more action, rather than reaction. It’s true that while his presentation showed the key players in the formal peace table, the process involves a larger community of “stakeholders.” I think this term has somehow lost its sheen because of its overuse in certain circles. I remind myself what it means by focusing on the word “stake,” which means investment, but also risk. Those of us who have a stake in the matter of peace are also taking a risk because we can lose. Yet we risk it because precisely of the chances of winning. In Filipino, the word for it is “taya:” Magkano ang taya mo? How much are you willing to lose in order to gain peace in our country?

Downplaying the current impasse, government panel member Atty. Angela Librado-Trinidad shared the gains of the past three formal peace talks in the Duterte administration, particularly the positive environment created by the president’s commitment to “accelerated and simultaneous negotiations.” She reminded us that the Duterte roadmap for peace specifies a time frame of one year. Thus, she remained confident that the president would return to the peace table.

In the same vein, Atty. Fatima Adin, NDFP counsel on the bilateral ceasefire, emphasized that what is now at stake is not only ending the fighting between the two groups, but the agreements on socio-economic reform, which will ultimately benefit the Filipino masses. The two crucial elements of reform are genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization, which are envisioned to bring about social justice. A highlight of the afternoon was a video call and message from Louie Jalandoni, who reiterated the willingness of the NDFP to continue the peace negotiations.

In presenting the challenges, Bishop Felixberto Calang, convenor of Sowing the Seeds of Peace, gave three points: popular ownership of the peace talks, building peace constituencies, and mobilization. But we can reduce it to one crucial point only: the public must be engaged in the peace process by understanding that this is not just a matter between the government and the CNN. Filipinos must begin to understand that peace is not only something that is needed in the battlefield; it is a necessary condition for true change in the country. Thus, the “compelling reason” to continue the peace talks is peace itself.

In his synthesis, Atty. Romeo Cabarde, chair of UCEAC confirmed that the prospects for peace are bright because both President Duterte and the people want peace. He underscored the fact that peace is a process, not just one agenda item to tick off. It remains a just and worthy cause, and he hoped that this campaign promise will someday be delivered.

Clearly, peace itself is the raison d’etre and the destination in this journey we all take together.

Follow or message me on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz

Posted in Opinion