Local politicians, activist groups, peasant federations, artists and cultural groups, educators, and students in Eastern Visayas region converged on March 1, Wednesday to call on President Rodrigo Duterte to resume the stalled peace negotiations of the government with the National Democratic Front.
Dean Lacandazo, Eastern Vista
A newly formed group dubbed ‘Kamurayawan’ (Waray term for peace) called on President Duterte to resume the peace talks with the communists looking forward to the economic and social gains of the country should the talks prosper. According to Rey Miranda, Secretary General of BAYAN Sinirangan Bisayas, the main convenor of Kamurayawan said that the development of Eastern Visayas can be addressed through the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms, the supposed next agenda of the peace negotiations with the NDF.
As of latest data of the Philippine Statistics Authority, Eastern Visayas dislodged the Muslim Mindanao Region from the poorest region spot in 2014 following the damage left by Super typhoon Yolanda. In the same year, the National Economic Development Authority declared that more than half of the region’s 5.1 million population suffers from poverty. The region, which main agricultural output are coconut and abaca have sustained the greatest losses according to the Department of Agriculture. After Yolanda, several storms have barreled through its lands leaving extreme living conditions for the barely recovering Eastern Visayas people.
“The dismal rehabilitation of the region has stunted its supposed growth and economic development and has mired our people in poverty. Farmers have barely recovered from the destruction caused by successive disasters. The situation in urban centers is not different too. Displacement, job insecurity and low wages continue to assault the urban poor and other marginalized sectors,” said Bishop Jaime Moriles of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines – East Visayas Jurisdiction. At the launching press conference of Kamurayawan in the Bishop’s Mansion along Real Street in Tacloban, Bishop Moriles cited the case of urban poor communities in the city’s Seawall District where “families income ranged only from P50 to P60 in a day.” There is much to be done in these communities where their income is highly disproportionate to the labor they do,” added Moriles. The protestant bishop urged President Duterte that the situation of the people is the “point of the matter” in pursuing peace. “The hapless condition of the poor and oppressed – is there any more reason compelling enough for the peace talks to continue than this?” asked Bishop Moriles.
The youth sector is also represented in the group through University of the Philippines student leader Joshua Sagdullas. “Abandoning the peace talks will be utter disservice to the Filipino people,” said Sagdullas. The youth leader who also serves as UP Tacloban’s representative to the University Student Council in Iloilo City also claimed that students of the Visayas islands and the whole country will “immensely benefit” from the economic provisions of the peace talks. “The negotiations and afterwards, the implementation of a pro-people CASER has all the potentiality to steer the country to the road of just and lasting peace. Free education can finally be enjoyed by the Filipino youth should CASER be hammered through the negotiations,” added Sagdullas.
End the All-out-war
The group also stressed that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s All-out-war declaration against the armed wing the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army will never be an alternative route to achieving peace in the country.
According to another convenor of Kamurayawan, Lina Tabuyan, leader of Western Samar-based peasant group Kapunungan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Weste han Samar said that militarization has been a chronic plague of their town even way back the Martial Law era. “We have been terrorized by the military during the Marcos years. And now, during the Duterte presidency we are still suffering from the right violations committed by the AFP,” claimed Tabuyan who is a rape victim of the military during the dictatorship.
Tabuyan, a resident of Calbiga, Samar added in her narrative an instance last year when elements of the Armed Forces went to their town purportedly to conduct a medical mission but turned out to be different from what was projected to the townsfolk. “The soldiers said that they are in our town for a medical mission, but when the ‘soldier-doctors’ handed out their medical prescriptions, we were astonished to discover that it was a list of names of high-powered firearms and their corresponding prices with a footnote threatening to arrest the community members, alleging us to be members of the New People’s Army,” said Tabuyan.
Tabuyan also accused the military of stealing their crops sometime in February shortly after the collapse of the peace talks. She believed that the military men were pursuing the NPA when the former passed through their village and “grabbed the already ripe corns of the barrio’s communal garden.” In several occasions after Duterte’s declaration of terminating the peace talks with the NDF, he pronounced ordering the AFP to be ready to fight. “Clean your rifles and prepare for a long war with the communists,” Duterte said. He even went on blaming the communists for his decision to lift his declaration of ceasefire and the subsequent termination of the peace talks itself. The NDF however, accused the AFP of sabotaging the peace talks by staging military offensives against the NPA despite the then effectivity of their Commander in Chief’s ceasefire declaration.
“We are sick and tired of this militarization, we urge President Duterte to heed the call of the poor Filipinos and not the few oligarchs, foreign giant capitalists and the right-wingers and fascists in the AFP,” exclaimed Tabuyan.
Tacloban City Council passes ‘Peace Resolution’
Hours after the launching press conference, at 1:00 in the afternoon during the Tacloban City Sangguniang Panlungsod’s regular session, a resolution urging President Duterte to resume the peace negotiations was passed.
Councilor Jerry Uy, Chairman of the Council’s Ways and Means Committee, and a member of Kamurayawan, sponsored the resolution and was unanimously passed by the chamber. “Tacloban upholds the thrust of the new government to achieve a just and lasting peace, progress, and national reconciliation by resolving one of the longest armed conflicts in the world,” Uy said.
The council also called on the release of political prisoners languishing in Philippine jails for years.
Miranda of BAYAN SB on the other hand welcomed the passing of the resolution and declared that “this is just one of the steps we will take in contributing to the national movement for just and lasting peace.” He also urged other cities, towns, and provinces to support the cause for peace.
Awareness activities such as school and community forums and film showing will also be held in the following weeks.
A Peace Concert will also be held on April at Tacloban’s Plaza Rizal in a massive education drive to raise public consciousness on the peace process and its benefits to the Filipinos. Miranda said that several artists, dance groups, and cultural collectives of Eastern Visayas and from other regions have already committed to perform in the said activity and expressed their support for the group’s cause.
“Achieving peace is a long and winding road, but certainly should the concerted efforts of the people take decisive steps in achieving a just society where the tillers will have their own land, the laborers achieve what is due to them, peace will be attained,” said Miranda.
Church leaders, activist groups, peasant organizations, LGBTQ groups, local politicians, educators, and students gathered on March 1 in Tacloban City to launch Kamurayawan a local campaign for just and lasting peace. The group urges President Rodrigo Duterte to resume peace talks with the NDFP.