At the end of the talk of Bishop Rex Reyes of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines during the formation of the One Faith, One Nation, One Voice Northern Luzon on February 19, one of the conveners shared a heartbreaking experience.

Bishop Joseph Agpaoa narrated that on Valentine’s Day, he was in Sta. Lucia, Ilocos Sur, assisting the family and friends retrieve the bodies of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels killed in Barangay Namatican the night before.

“I have witnessed a very touching scene at the funeral parlor where the bodies were, the father of one of the NPAs killed and an army soldier embracing each other, crying. Later I learned that they were neighbors in Pangasinan. Also, I learned that the other rebel killed has a sibling in the Philippine National Police,” the bishop said.

Agpaoa is the current bishop of the North Luzon Jurisdiction of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. He is responsible for all the UCCP conferences in the Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, and Cordillera regions.

The church and peace

Reyes talked was about the Church’s role in the pursuit of peace. He said that the Church is the hope for peace, adding that it is the intercessor for peace.

He stressed that “today more than ever when both the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) seem to have given up on the peace talks that the Church should work harder to engage both parties to resume the talks.”

Reyes co-chairs the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP). According to him, PEPP’s reason for existence is to continue the negotiations between the two contending parties. He took part in several formal talks between government and NDFP, especially during the first year of the Duterte administration.

The talks during the early months of the Duterte administration resulted in relatively significant strides. The parties involved in the negotiations agreed to a simultaneous unilateral ceasefire and signed sections of the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER). Despite the great achievements, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Proclamation 360, terminating the peace negotiations with the NDFP in November 2017. He accused the revolutionary movement of insincerity. An order from the president designating the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA came the following month.

“It is now more than ever that we should push for the resumption of the talks, at a time when there are forces who say that the talks will not prosper,” Reyes said.

Reyes, a proud son of the Mountain Province, said that the Church has a lot to learn from the indigenous ways in resolving conflict.

“I am from the Cordillera, who has lived in Metro Manila for the past 30 years, but I have learned early on from my elders that if there is conflict, you have to sit down and talk to address the issue that gave rise to the problem…answer immediately the questions: how did this happen and what do we do now,” Reyes said.

CASER and peace

The Anglican bishop underscored that the CASER was the meat of the peace talks. He told the audience that is it the second of the four agendas outlined in The Hague Joint Declaration signed by both the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and NDFP in 1992.

Reyes said that by signing the Hague Declaration, both parties agreed to talk about peace and to resolve the roots of the conflict. He said they also decided on four substantive agenda that also served as an outline of the talks.

First of the said agendas was the respect of human rights and international humanitarian law; second, the socio-economic reforms; third, political and constitutional reforms; and lastly, the disposition of armed forces.

GRP and the NDFP already forged an agreement regarding the first agenda, the Comprehensive Agreement of the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), signed in 1998.

Reyes stressed that it is wrong to dismiss or label the peace talks and the agreements as “just communist ideas.”

“It is not as if the agreements fell from heaven, it took time to thresh that out, how dare we say that it is a Communist agenda, both sides have sacrificed a lot to hammer out the peace agenda,” he said.

“War is not the way of Christ, and so we have to stand on it,” the bishop added.

Reyes said CARHRIHL also led to the creation of the Joint Monitoring Committees (JMC). He told the Royal Catholic Diocese of Cubao, Quezon City hosts the offices of the JMC.

“If you enter the NDFP office is on the left side, and government office is on the right side of course when you walk out it’s the other way around, so if you can use that as an example, it is possible, peace is within the realm of possible things in this country, and we should never forget that,” Reyes said.

The church’s solution

But despite the signing of the CARHRIHL, Reyes said nothing significant happened except the killing of people, church workers from the term of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to Benigno Aquino, Jr. to the present Duterte administration.

“The solution is to support and push for the peace talks,” he said.

Reyes said that the second agenda on socio-economic reforms practically addresses pressing issues that plague the people.

“Study the CASER draft, and you will fully understand why certain people do not like the peace talks, because the draft of the CASER addresses the question of land reform, economic justice, social justice, who are those in our country who do not want those issues addressed, it is not the ordinary people, some of them are sitting in congress, some of them are generals,” Reyes said.

Reyes said the peace talks have to be national because localized peace talks will not work.

“We tried it in Sagada, localized peace talks; it did not work,” he said.

“It has to be national because whether you here or there, it is the same basic problem expressed in so many ways: the denial of food, the denial of rights, the denial of dignity, the denial of political rights,” Reyes added.

Reyes said that the civil war has been going on for 50 years. “In biblical reckoning, this is one generation, we have a generation of killings, and now it is our children,” he said.

“We have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews in the army and police and the other side who took up arms, you tell me if you are happy that they are shooting at each other in front of your face if you are not then we have to push for the peace talks,” Reyes stressed. # nordis.net

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