A group of Catholic and Protestant bishops in the Philippines expressed alarm over what they described as the “closing of the door” to a peaceful resolution of conflict in the country with the designation of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines as a “terrorist” group.
The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), an organization of ecumenical Church leaders in the country said the designation “tragically closes the door to what is truly called for: a peaceful resolution of the (armed) conflict” between the government and communist rebels.
The Philippines Anti-Terror Council (ATC) has earlier announced that it has designated the NDFP as a “terrorist” group.
In a resolution issued on June 23, the government body said NDFP members “continue to lure and/or recruit people to join the New People’s Army (NPA), while the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) itself admitted and maintained … the direct and indispensable role of the NDF aka NDFP in its armed operations.”
“Sadly, with this action the ATC buried 29 years of laborious and painstaking agreements and gradual steps toward peace,” read a PEPP statement signed by, among others, Catholic Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ, the group’s chairperson, and Protestant Bishop Rex Reyes Jr., co-chairperson.
“The government seems to be ignoring that peace is a sacred right of all people and guaranteed as a fundamental duty of the state,” the statement read.
It added that the ATC resolution only proves that the country’s Anti-terrorism Law “is a huge hurdle to the promise of peace for everyone as it is being used as a weapon in a total war against so-called terrorists.”
“The case against two Aetas, which thankfully was dismissed, shows that the terror law can be used to fabricate charges and arbitrarily designate persons and groups,” read the Church group’s statement.
It said that “the designation and the present course that relies on the use of violent means only increase the likelihood of more violations in human rights and international and humanitarian law.”
The group said it is “greatly concerned about the escalation of civilian populations being harmed as seen in the rising cases of killings, threats, harassment, and restriction of movements of farming and indigenous communities in remote rural areas.”
“Are groups supporting or calling for the resumption of the formal peace talks with ‘designated terrorists’ next in the ATC’s crossfires as well?” asked the Church leaders.
They noted that “it is not far-fetched,” citing the freezing of the accounts and properties of Church ministries like the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and the Haran Center of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Davao City, allegedly for supporting terrorist activities.
The ATC has earlier designated 19 individuals, including NDFP peace consultants, as “terrorists.” Included in the list are Rey Claro Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center and Vicente Ladlad. Their assets were simultaneously frozen by the Anti-Money-Laundering Council.
“As church leaders, we are highly alarmed at these developments,” read the PEPP statement.
“However, we will not falter in our belief and call that the most viable option for a just and lasting peace is through a negotiated peace settlement coupled with meaningful social and economic reforms,” it added.
“We affirm that a peace process that addresses social injustices is the will of God and we will not stop working for it,” said the ecumenical Church group.
The Church leaders then appealed to the government “to rescind its designation of the NDFP as a terrorist organization and recognize the lasting devastation this will have on the Filipino people’s trust in the government’s competence to resolve internal conflicts through peaceful negotiations.”
“We continue to appeal to both parties to return to the negotiating table,” read the PEPP statement.
“We also call on our people to pray and work for peace and support prospective candidates in the coming elections who are committed to genuine peace,” it added.
On Monday, the ecumenical group Pilgrims for Peace said the “war hawks” in the government seem to be “hell-bent on killing peace negotiations” by pursuing an “all-out war” in the government’s counterinsurgency program.
The group said the designation of the NDFP as “terrorist” will have “dire implications” on the “human rights situation and constriction of democratic space in the country.”
The NDFP is a coalition of revolutionary social and economic justice organizations, agricultural unions, trade unions, indigenous rights groups, leftist political parties, and other related groups in the Philippines.
It was established in 1973 as a “revolutionary united front organization of the Filipino people fighting for national freedom and for the democratic rights of the people.”
In a statement, the Department of National Defense expressed support for the ATC resolution, saying that NDFP members “continue to lure and recruit people to join the NPA.”
“The department hopes that this development justifies and enables the defense sector to move forward in its efforts to address internal security concerns and lay the foundations of sustainable, lasting peace and national development,” read the Defense department statement.