By RUDY D. LIPORADA
In the push for wanting to achieve peace in the Philippines through the ongoing revived peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government Republic of the Philippines (GRP), Filipino immigrants and Filipino-Americans trooped to the Philippine Consulate on Los Angeles, California last April 28, 2017. The protest rally was spearheaded by International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan of Southern California (BAYAN SoCal) together with other allied organizations and solidarity groups. Apart from voicing support on the ongoing peace negotiations, the ICRHRP and BAYAN SoCal also denounced US militarization in the Philippines and around the world.
The rally culminates fora in California with human rights defenders from the Archipelago who are committed to support Human Rights and Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines. The delegates, mostly coming from indigenous tribes, are on tour in the United States. The Peace Tour event was organized by the International Coalition for Human Rights – Southern California, with support from legal, faith and other solidarity organizations. Started in April 18 and ending in May 8, the Peace Tour covered New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Oakland, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Chicago and St. Paul.
The fora and protest comes at the heel of the rejection of Regina Lopez as the Natural Resources Secretary by the Philippine Commission on Appointments (CA). It was Senator Manny Pacquiao as chairman of the CA’s committee on environment and natural resources who read its recommendation to reject Lopez’s appointment. Lopez has been vocal against the mining companies in the Philippines who disregard of the environment destruction wrought about their operations. She maintains the people’s welfare within the vicinity of the mines should be paramount and irresponsible operations bring about pollution of rivers, denudation of forests, erosions, and others to the detriment of the people’s welfare.
The convergence of the issues raised by the ICHRP, BAYAN SoCal, and Regina Lopez hinges on the reason why there is an ongoing peace talks between the NDFP and the GRP – that of rooting out reasons why there is an armed conflict raging in the Islands and defining the solutions to these reasons. Preliminary general agreement is the acceptance by both sides that the Philippines is underdeveloped because of the Philippines being latched on the feudal relationships necessitating genuine land reform and non-industrialization. In this regard, Edre Olalia, Legal Consultant of the Peace Negotiating Panel of NDFP, explained, “There are peace negotiations because there is an ongoing armed conflict. There is an armed conflict because of the exploitation and oppression, that’s why there is no development.” Megan Foronda of Gabriela Los Angeles raised the question, “Is there peace in the Philippines when farmers and indigenous peoples are displaced from their lands? Is there peace when the rights of women, children, and LGBTQ rights are violated?”
Speakers at the fora stated that the conflict which brought about the belligerency of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed New People’s Army (NPA) are effected by the those who profit from the status quo, namely the landlords, the large entrepreneurs, and those who also profit from the oppressive relations and hold key positions in the government. The speakers decried that those who are benefitted by the system uses the Armed forces of the Philippines (AFP) against those who are being oppressed by the system. Thus, Romeo Hebron of BAYAN USA assailed the United States saying, “the US War Machine, funded by Americans’ tax money, continues to support and train Philippine military that oppresses Filipino Indigenous Peoples, workers, women and youth.” In addition, he pointed out that the new Trump administration’s budget would only be complicit in this growing militarization in the Philippines. “Amidst the cuts that the Trump administration made to education, health care and other social services, the US is wasting people’s money with its interventionist policies that cause un-peace in countries like the Philippines.”
The protest also underscored the third-year anniversary of the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States and supplemented the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two governments on April 28, 2014. The EDCA and the VFA, effectively brought the US bases back into the Philippines, a violation of the Philippine Constitution. Christina Palabay, Secretary General of the Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) called on President Duterte to “walk the talk and decisively terminate the one-sided military agreements with the US, including the EDCA.” Palabay added that “if the Duterte government is really serious in asserting Philippine sovereignty against the US, it should start by doing away with treaties and deals that trample on the nation’s sovereignty.”
In line with natural resources and environment protection, Jo Pagalan, one of the representatives from the indigenous Filipino (Lumad) tribes reported, “the CARAGA (Northeastern Mindanao) region was declared a mining capital where 12 army battalions are deployed.” This “is used by the government to suppress and silence the Filipino people, not only indigenous people,” added Dulphing Ogan. They decry the GRP’s complicity in violating laws that ban the encroachment on indigenous lands, particularly by investment ventures interested in the natural resources there.
Despite the challenges that the indigenous people in the Philippines are facing they are now relying on what Tina Palabay, national secretary of Karapatan, says: “Despite numerous, myriad problems, there are rays of hope, particularly as the Filipino people continue to resist neoliberal policies and the militarization of their communities.” In the hope that further support could be generated, Christopher Hamera, a Methodist missionary and Math and English teacher to Lumad children, reiterated the importance of supporting the development of the Lumad through the Save Our Schools (SOS) Campaign, which sends educators to the Lumad children, especially through alternative schools in their villages. Participants to the Los Angeles forum also signed a petition for Rep. Karen Bass (D-34) to support the ongoing peace talks and to reassess the State Department’s foreign military funding policy.
It should be worthwhile to note that the NDFP is now able to bring the GRP to the Peace Talks or, loosely, called peace negotiations because it has attained a status of belligerency that could no longer be ignored. From a ragtag group, mainly in Tarlac, 48 years ago, the CPP’s armed might, the NPA, has grown to battalions all over the Islands. While, generally, largely operating in the countrysides, they are now able to attack police, barangay, and other military garrisons in urban areas. This despite from the Marcos regime to the present saying that the NPAs could be quashed at any time or at the throes of being decimated. It should also be noted that former President Noynoy Aquino will only be correct in calling the peace talks or the The Hague Joint Declaration “a document of perpetual division” if the detractors of the Peace Talks, like the landlords, the AFP bellicose elements, and the foreign dominators would not want peace in the Islands. # nordis.net