Today, September 21, 2022, the world will observe the annual International Day of Peace. Forty-one years ago, in 1981, the United Nations issued the “declaration on the right to peace” which affirmed peace as a sacred right of all people and a primary prerequisite for the material wellbeing, development and the progress of countries. The UN also emphasized that the preservation of the right of peoples to peace and the promotion of its implementation constitute a fundamental obligation of each state.
While this year’s theme, “End racism. Build peace.” is not directly related to the internal armed conflict in our country, the United Nations’ message of ending discrimination and intolerance resonates in our context in terms of the rampant red-tagging and vilification often directed towards critics of the immediate past administration and even under the current dispensation. Many government officials especially those involved in the National Task Force To End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) have resorted to demonizing human rights and peace advocates as “communist terrorists” instead of nurturing a culture of dialogue and principled negotiations.
In the Philippines, September 21, 2022, is also the 50th anniversary of the imposition of Martial Law by the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. In those dark years, many fell victim to human rights violations. Many others also died defending our democratic rights. Marcos Sr. imposed Martial Law to “nip the communist insurgency in the bud,” however, it only fanned the flames of the armed conflict between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
Now, 50 years later, and after succeeding administrations intensified their respective counter-insurgency programs aimed at defeating the communist rebellion, the armed conflict has continued to rage particularly in the countryside causing internal displacement in the most vulnerable communities. This long- running conflict only mirrors how deeply embedded are its roots in social injustice.
This is compounded by the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA), with its vague and broad definition of terrorism. Red-baiting is now paired with terrorist-labelling. The draconian law grants police and military personnel the power to detain suspects “for investigation” without a warrant or charge up to 24 days. Moreover, the ATA virtually negates the accountability of law enforcement agents for violating the rights of suspects.
The NTF-ELCAC and the ATA have brought about stepped-up political repression against the political opposition, trade unionists, community organizers, journalists, artists and writers, peace and human rights advocates and ordinary people. This includes red-tagging of social activists including church people and churches; attacks on indigenous communities and their schools; and harassment of humanitarian aid groups and their workers. Sadly, the wielding of both the NTF-ELCAC and the ATA continue under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte.
It was thus a breath of fresh air when Sen. Loren Legarda called for the resumption of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations and a review of the ATA at the Senate floor. Her speech is a call for sobriety, unity and openness amidst an atmosphere of hatred and war that is being pushed by war mongers even among her colleagues.
Let us mark the International Day of Peace and the 50th year of Martial Law on September 21 with the call for the resumption of the GRP-NDFP peace talks. Peace is a continuing aspiration of our people. Calling for the ways of peace through principled negotiations is to reject a militarist solution, of martial rule in any guise.
Thus, the Citizens Alliance for Just Peace, the biggest network of peace advocates in the country, enjoins the public in this historic occasion by calling on the GRP and NDFP to return to the negotiating table and together put an end to the increasing human rights violations and the loss of lives as a result of this conflict and arrive at a just and enduring peace in the country.
Issued and signed on this day, 21 September 2022.
Archbishop Emeritus Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J., D.D.
The Most Rev. Rhee M. Timbang
Convenor, Pilgrims for Peace
Ms. Karen Tanada
Convenor, Waging Peace