TIME WAS TOO SHORT for the participants in engaging the speakers and having lively interactions when Workers Assistance Center Inc. (WAC), Cavite People’s Advocacy for Good Governance (CPAGG), Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) Tanza Chapter, and Solidarity of Cavite Workers (SCW) collaborated and held a peace forum at the Bp. Felix Perez Hall at the Holy Cross Parish in Tanza, Cavite on April 9. 

The theme of the forum was Prospects of the Ongoing Peace Negotiations and the Role of the Church and the Communities in Achieving Peace where more than a hundred participants attended the event.

Participants were workers from different unions under the Solidarity of Cavite Workers (SCW); civil society organizations in the communities from Tanza, Rosario, Noveleta, and Bacoor; members of the academe from the La Sallian Community Development Center and Alliance of Concerned Teachers; the youth; and the two municipal councillors of Tanza namely, Hon. Joselito Diosana and Hon. Angelito Langit.

The program started at exactly 2:00 in the afternoon where Rev. Fr. Calixto Lumandas, parish priest of the Holy Cross parish, led with a prayer and welcomed everybody in the hall afterwards.

Mr. Danilo Encinas, Head of the Technical Committee of the GPH Peace Panel discussed first amongst the panel of speakers in place of GPH Peace Panel Chair Padilla. Padilla,  initially booked for the forum a month ago but  had to  attend to an important matter at Dumaguete City on the day of the activity.

Encinas welcomed the forum and encouraged common folks to engage the government in a dialogue and actively participate in the negotiations and hoped that similar activities would be held as venue for the people to listen and speak. He further said that the role of the Church and labor sector in the peace negotiations is to provide valuable inputs through public dialogues and consultations. He also enjoins the participants to create a “forum” to provoke meaningful discussions of the issues impacting on the peace negotiations such as socio-economic reforms  and provide pressure to keep the parties at the table. He further said that people should extract accountabilities from parties and bridge the parties to common platform for a successful negotiation.

Mr. Agcaoili of the NDFP,  immediately made a rebuttal and clarification  on the statement of Mr. Encinas. He said that all throughout the speech of Mr. Encinas there’s no mention of justice. He said “there is no peace if there is no social justice”. He also addes that  it is the GPH who are in the present dispensation and in the authority to make a change. They are the ruling regime and they are in the position to implement social, political, and economic reforms.  He enlightened the participants with the two-decade old peace negotiations where oftentimes GPH suspended the talks. Although, he shared that in an on and off conduct of the formal negotiations, both parties had reached numerous pacts with which the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) former President Joseph Estrada signed in 1998. Agcaoili later asked the GPH to refrain from basing their optimism to achieve peace on a set time-frame but  on the willingness  of both parties to ending the conflict in the country by  addressing its root causes.

Dr. Rommel Linatoc, program secretary of the NCCP completed the battery of resource persons presenting in behalf of Fr. Rex Reyes, Jr. Linatoc stressed the importance of people’s active involvement on the peace negotiations through massive education campaign, relentless organizing and mobilizations, and aggressive broadening of peace advocates. He also pressed the importance of the people’s  active involvement in the current peace negotiations as parties are due to deliberate the aspect of socio-economic reforms which would tackle problems such as landlessness of tillers, inhumane working conditions in manufacturing plants, unemployment, and others.

Afterwards, the reactors gave their statement on what they have to say on the speakers’ discussion. Ms. Merly Grafe, Chairperson of SCW and Rev. Fr. Jose Dizon, Director of the Diocesan Labor Ministry gave their respective views.

Merly Grafe agreed to what Mr. Agcaoili have presented that truly there is no peace if there is no justice. And for the workers it is a good chance that both parties are now discussing the socio-economic reforms where the workers can really relate and participate in terms of their wages and aspirations for  a decent wage.

Fr. Dizon on his part, said that it is a welcome move on the part of the GPH in appointing Atty. Alexander Padilla as the chairperson of the peace panel of the government. He said that if Atty. Padilla was present in the forum he would tell him to grab this opportunity for  a Padilla to leave legacy, and that is  the conclusion of the  peace talks between the GPH and the NDFP. 

Further, he congratulated the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) for their active role as a Church institution in the peace negotiations. “Sila ang aktibong gumagampan ng tungkulin ng Simbahan sa pakikialam, pakikisangkot, sa usapang pangkapayapaan (They actively perform the role of the church in mediating, getting involved, with the peace talks)."

He also said that he fully agree with Dr. Linatoc’s speech that the Church should not be an outsider in the peace talks and peace negotiations issues. 

Lastly, he said that as the two parties seriously discussed about the agreements made on human and international human rights and other agreements, one issue that they have to address is the issue of landlessness and its response should be a genuine land reform. He further explained that even for the Pope, land reform is also one of his priority issue and the idea should be land to the tillers and here is the major role and challenge to President Aquino and his political will because for him,  this involves Hacienda Luisita.

The forum ended in Ms. Rio Ramos-Mazo’s, Director of the La Sallian Community Development Center, synthesis that things that have discussed should not end in the forum venue but actions must be made to realize a just and long lasting peace soon. She also posed a challenge both to the GPH and NDFP. For the GPH, how can they implement a comprehensive and genuine socio-economic reforms and for the NDFP on how they will handle the worries on the sincerity of the GPH to talk about peace.  Further she said peace is just simple and we should start peace with ourselves, quoting  the song, “Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me."