The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) welcomed the decision of the Senate Committee on Finance to cut the 2022 budget of the National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict.
The Senate body cut the task force’s budget from 28 billion pesos to 4 billion pesos and reallocated the excess funds for COVID-19 response.
The ecumenical peace group, which is composed of Catholic and Protestant Church leaders in the country said even the 4-billion-peso “is still a very substantial amount for an agency that … espoused a culture of hatred and violence instead of a culture of dialogue and peace.”
The government’s anti-communist task force has received billions of pesos in the wake of President Rodrigo Duterte’s unilateral termination of peace negotiations with the rebel National Democratic Front of the Philippines in 2017.
“The government could have used these billions of pesos to address the basic needs of our people, especially in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” read a statement released by PEPP on Thursday, November 11.
The group said that contrary to the name of the task force to end local armed conflicts, “[it] becomes a hindrance to the promise of peace.”
The Church leaders said the task force “is now the critical weapon in the total war against the so-called terrorists.”
“This total war relies on the use of violent means. Consequently, it only increases the violations in human rights and international humanitarian law,” read the statement.
“We are witnesses to the results of this total war strategy of the government as seen in the numerous killings, threats, harassment, and bombing and restriction of movements of farming and indigenous communities in remote rural areas,” it added.
PEPP said the government task force “has also become notorious for its rampant red-tagging.”
“It is responsible for vilifying even church organizations, church leaders, and members,” said the group, which is headed by Jesuit Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro and Bishop Rex Reyes Jr. of the Philippine Episcopal Church.
“Based on our faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ, the PEPP believes that violence breeds injustice, which results in unpeace,” said the Church leaders, adding that the country’s “complicated conflict” will not be solved “if the government does not address the roots that fan its flames.”
“For us, the Church leaders, the most viable option for a just and lasting peace is to forge a negotiated peace settlement coupled with meaningful social and economic reforms,” said the group.
The Church leaders said “principled peace negotiations also require much, much fewer funds and are less costly to life and limb, which, if followed to the letter would mean more funds for our people mired now in hunger and poverty amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The group reiterated its call for “a peace process that addresses social injustices is the will of God, and we will not stop working for it, starting with the call to resume the formal peace talks between the government and the NDFP.”