Peace consciousness: What do we mean exactly?

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star) - September 7, 2019 - 12:00am

Since 2004 the Philippine government has quietly observed September as National Peace Consciousness Month, pursuant to Proclamation 675, issued by President Gloria M. Arroyo on July 20 that year.

The observance was intended to “instill greater consciousness and understanding among the Filipino people of the comprehensive peace process, to strengthen and sustain institutional and popular support for and participation in this effort…” Also it aimed to enhance support for the global movement, spearheaded by the United Nations, to promote a Culture of Peace based on “nonviolence, respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, tolerance, understanding, and solidarity [underscoring mine].” 

In 2017, with then Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza leading the observance, the theme was “Mithiing Kapayapaan, Sama-samang Isakatuparan! (All Together, Let’s Fulfill Our Aspiration for Peace!)” This year the theme is “Tapang at Malasakit Para sa Kapayapaan (Courage and Compassion for Peace),” a takeoff from, or adoption of, President Duterte’s campaign slogan in the May 2016 elections.

Note how the themes mirrored the change in the prevailing conditions, as well as how the concepts of peace and a “comprehensive peace process” are understood and pursued by the concerned functionaries of the government.

In 2017, the theme reflected Dureza’s last-ditch effort to sustain the GRP-NDFP peace talks, which President Duterte had arbitrarily deemed cancelled after four fruitful rounds of formal negotiations in Europe. “This is the farthest point that we have already achieved in our negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF,” he noted at the time, pointing out that the two parties were “sharing common values and common aspirations for a better Philippines.” The framework of the negotiations was to “address the root causes of the armed conflict” – social, economic, political, and even cultural.

The theme also upheld the principle of “joint and separate responsibilities” of the two parties in the implementation of peace agreements.

On Nov. 23 that year, however, Duterte issued Proclamation 360 declaring his “termination” of the peace talks (which was not the mutually agreed-on mode). Dureza then lamented: “This is an unfortunate development in our work for peace. Never before have we all reached this far in our negotiations.” 

Dureza’s replacement, former AFP Chief Carlito Galvez Jr. (with a new title: Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity) led two parallel activities related to this year’s observance – the “second phase of demobilization” of MILF-BIAF combatants in Maguindanao and the “disposition of arms and forces” of the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa-Revolutionary Proletarian Army/ABB-Tabara-Paduano Group (a breakaway group from the CPP-NPA) in Capiz. Both activities were parts of implementing the separate peace accords between the government and the two groups (with the MILF in 2014 and with the RPM-RPA-ABB in 1999).

It was announced that each demobilized MILF combatant would receive P1-million worth of aid. Does this denote the government’s “compassion” expressed in this year’s theme?

Galvez now supposedly oversees “localized peace talks,” the mechanism and process of which have not been clearly defined. Almost two years after Duterte cut short the GRP-NDFP peace talks and announced the shift to a “localized” mode, no identified unit of the NPA has been reported to have responded. What the AFP has been drumming up is a scheme, dubbed “Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).” Essentially it offers financial, livelihood, health and educational assistance to “insurgents/rebels” in exchange for surrendering to the government. Jettisoned is the framework of “addressing the root causes.”

Apparently, the military’s end-goal is to “incentivize” revolutionary fighters of the CPP-NPA to “surrender in droves,” even as it intensifies its counterinsurgency war through Oplan Kapanatagan, with its façade of “peace and development.”

But there’s no certainty this latest operational plan will succeed – as the previous “oplans” under successive presidents starting from Marcos all have failed, leaving a trail of numerous deaths mostly civilians, massive destruction of property and resources, and worse human rights violations.

Fixated on ending the 50-year armed conflict by the end of his term in 2022, Duterte and his militarized Cabinet have geared up as a National Task Force (via Executive Order 70) to instrumentalize the entire government machinery and resources (national and local), plus “civil society and other stakeholders” to attain that goal. Applying a US-designed “whole-of-nation approach,” the enterprise is called a “National Peace Framework.”

Deeply concerned about these developments, three groups that have consistently backed the GRP-NDFP peace talks – the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Pilgrims for Peace, and Kapayapaan Campaign for a Just and Lasting Peace – have set a forum at the Sto. Domingo church Martin de Porres Hall on Sept. 12. The participants aim to assess how the human rights and peace situation has evolved since Duterte ended the peace talks. They will also analyze the intent of EO 70, and articulate a common plan to bring about “the peace our people deserve.”

Other countries in the world are grappling with the same issues of peace and the seemingly inexorable cycle of violence that peace negotiations don’t always succeed in breaking.

I recently came across a study focusing on peace agreements in Africa which gave me food for thought. The study was done for the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden. (As of October 2018, according to the United Nations Peace Agreements Database, there were 750 existing peace accords worldwide, of which 42 percent relate to Africa; most of these were intrastate, or agreements between armed groups within national borders.)

Several of these peace accords, the researchers found, failed to lay the foundation for sustainable peace. War broke out anew. The “cyclical nature” of African conflicts can be partly attributed to weak political institutions and structures. But also, the study said:

• Concepts of peace and conflict have a profound effect on peace negotiations. Too often, peace is seen simply as the absence of armed conflict, and the success of peace agreements is measured by whether it results in cessation of hostilities.

• The foundations of peace and potential for socio-economic and political transformation depend on vital decisions at the negotiation table and the dynamics of the peace talks.

• For peace negotiations and accords to be effective, there should be a paradigm shift in the understanding of the elements of peace and conflict – not just the absence of war but a combination of factors, such as economic opportunities, access to justice, and degree of gender inequality.

• Conflict should be seen not merely as open violence, but as the consequence of systemic oppression inherent in a society’s cultural, economic, and political structures resulting in corruption, gender inequality, and unequal distribution of resources.

• Peace negotiations can falter if parties feel coerced into accepting an outcome; agreements may collapse if the parties involved do not implement them in good faith.

Clarification: In my column last week, the draft Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms I cited is that of the NDFP, not yet accepted by the GRP. What was basically agreed on was, in land reform, the distribution of land to landless farmers for free.

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

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