On September 21, the whole world will observe the annual International Day of Peace. This year’s theme for the global observance is “Recovering Better for an Equitable and Sustainable World.” The theme underscores the need for the global community to heal from the COVID-19 pandemic, “to think creatively and collectively about how to help everyone recover better, how to build resilience, and how to transform our world into one that is more equal, more just, equitable, inclusive, sustainable, and healthier.” The UN also wants us to direct our attention to people caught in conflict-affected areas because they are especially vulnerable as they lack access to healthcare.
The Philippines is one of the countries that are hardest hit by the pandemic. The country is also in the midst of a heightened armed conflict. Unfortunately, September 21 is also the anniversary of the imposition of Martial Law by the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. During this time, Marcos grossly trampled on human rights and the armed conflict between the government and the New People’s Army (NPA) intensified.
Today, the quest for peace to end the decades-old armed conflict between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has become elusive again. Since last year, the government of President Rodrigo Duterte has closed its door to the principled peace negotiations with the NDFP. It rejected the results of the backchannel talks that Sec. Silvestre Bello had commenced with his NDFP counterparts in December 2019 to restart the peace negotiations after Duterte unilaterally terminated the peace talks in 2017. Then, it promulgated the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which became a law that enables the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) to designate the NDFP as a terrorist group. This effectively buried years of laborious and painstaking agreements and gradual steps toward peace. Such actions of the government go against the calls of the International Day of Peace.
With the breakdown of the peace negotiations, record shows there had been significant increases in armed encounters between the AFP and the NPA. There were many recorded violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, even in the midst of a debilitating health crisis.
Various sectors, even lawmakers are calling on the government to focus its attention and resources on the fight against COVID-19, rather than further intensifying its counter-insurgency campaign. These calls came on the heels of the proposed 2022 budget where a big chunk goes to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) while slashing the education and health budget, including the budget of the University of the Philippines and consequently that of the Philippine General Hospital. This act definitely goes against our people’s right to peace.
In this light, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) enjoins the Filipino people to commemorate the International Day of Peace. Let us call on the government to prioritize the country’s need for transformative healing. Let us also call on the GRP and the NDFP to join the whole world in this important remembrance day by returning to the negotiating table, and together putting an end to further rights violations and the loss of life that result from the conflict.
Issued and signed on this 21st day of September 2021.
Archbishop Emeritus Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ
Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro
Bishop Rex B. Reyes, Jr.
Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines
Rev. Dr. Aldrin M. Penamora
Peace and Reconciliation Commission – PCEC
Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza
National Council of Churches in the Philippines
Sr. Mary John D. Mananzan, OSB
Office of Women & Gender Commission
Bishop Emeritus Deogracias S. Iniguez, Jr.
PEPP Head of the Secretariat
 All references to this year’s theme about the International Day of Peace can be found at https://www.un.org/en/observances/international-day-peace