Silence the guns during this season of hope

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) raises its alarm and concern over the deteriorating prospects for peace in our land. The advent season is upon us, yet unpeace reigns. Respect for human rights, which is a primary requisite for peace, is ignored, or worse, demonized as a barrier to “peace and order”. This is evident in the arrests of a journalist and six union organizers, on the day when the whole world was commemorating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Several activists have also been arrested or killed in the past few months while numerous lives continue to be claimed under the campaign against illegal drugs.

Harmful rhetoric abounds, even coming from the President himself. The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) is relentless in its malicious red-tagging of organizations and individuals critical of the government, including churches and church personalities, by falsely accusing them of being linked to terrorism. This is in sharp contrast with the advent period a year ago when back channel negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) resulted in a Christmas ceasefire which redounded to a hopeful atmosphere for peace.

Unfortunately, during this COVID-19 pandemic, the government rejected the results of the back channel talks, unilaterally stopped the peace negotiations, and proceeded to heighten its war against the NDFP, the New People’s Army (NPA), and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and its so-called “legal fronts”. The Anti-Terrorism Act was passed and substantial funds were also designated by the government for its counter-insurgency program with P19-billion set aside for the NTF-ELCAC. Since then, three NDFP consultants – Randal Echanis and Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio — were killed, while many others like Rey Claro Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center remain in jail. Even former NDFP Consultant Alfredo Mapano, who was already working for the government, was re-arrested.

This drive to annihilate the CPP-NPA-NDF without seriously addressing the long-standing issues of poverty, landlessness and inequality in the country, will not bring about a just and enduring peace. It will only further fan the flames of the armed conflict. It is also very costly not to mention insensitive when the country is reeling from a serious socio-economic crisis brought about by the pandemic and the series of natural disasters that devastated the country recently.

As a significant portion of our country starts the traditional “simbang gabi” to mark the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, we appeal to the people to continue to pray and work for peace. Let us usher in a new dawning of peace – a peace that is not for the silencing of critical voices but a peace that addresses the root causes of dissent. We call on the government to re-focus its efforts and funds for medical and socio-economic solutions to heal the nation rather than spending for counter-insurgency and all-out war. We also call on both parties to silence their guns during this season of hope and open their hearts to peace so that as the year ends, “…by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1: 78-79).

Issued and signed on this day 15th day of December, 2020.

Sgd.
BISHOP EMERITUS ANTONIO J. LEDESMA, SJ., DD
Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro
Co-chairperson, PEPP

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THE RT. REVD. REX B. REYES, JR.
Co-chairperson, PEPP
Ecumenical Bishops Forum

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BISHOP REUEL NORMAN O. MARIGZA
General Secretary
National Council of Churches in the Philippines

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SR. MARY JOHN D. MANANZAN, OSB
OWGC – AMRSP

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REV. DR. ALDRIN PENAMORA
Executive Director
Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Commission, PCEC

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BISHOP EMERITUS DEOGRACIAS S. INIGUEZ, JR., D.D.
Head of the Secretariat, PEPP