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Closing the door to a peaceful resolution

Statement of The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) over the designation of the NDFP as a terrorist group by the Anti-Terrorism Council
July 21, 2021

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) joins all peace advocates in sounding the alarm over the designation of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as a terrorist group by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC). This designation tragically closes the door to what is truly called for: a peaceful resolution of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and NDFP conflict.

Sadly, with this action the ATC buried 29 years of laborious and painstaking agreements and gradual steps toward peace. The government seems to be ignoring that peace is a sacred right of all people and guaranteed as a fundamental duty of the state.

It also confirms that the Anti-terrorism Law (ATL) is a huge hurdle to the promise of peace for everyone as it is being used as a weapon in a total war against so-called terrorists. The case against two Aetas, which thankfully was dismissed, shows that the terror law can be used to fabricate charges and arbitrarily designate persons and groups.

The ATC designation demonstrates that the government is using its full resources to subdue the CPP/NPA/NDF. It does not fully recognize that violence will not resolve the conflict, that the most judicious way to address its roots – poverty, landlessness, inequitable access to resources – is to resume the formal peace talks. The designation and the present course that relies on the use of violent means only increase the likelihood of more violations in human rights and international and humanitarian law.

We are therefore greatly concerned about the escalation of civilian populations being harmed as seen in the rising cases of killings, threats, harassment, and restriction of movements of farming and indigenous communities in remote rural areas.

This latest designation by the ATC also begs the question: Are groups supporting or calling for the resumption of the formal peace talks with “designated terrorists” next in the ATC’s crosshairs as well? It is not far-fetched since they unjustifiably froze the accounts and properties of church ministries like that of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and the Haran Center of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Davao City, allegedly for supporting terrorist activities.

This also comes after the ATC designated 19 individuals, including peace consultants, as terrorists a few months ago. The list includes peace consultants Rey Claro Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center and Vicente Ladlad. Their assets were simultaneously frozen by the Anti-Money-Laundering Council (AMLC). Mr. Ladlad’s bank account contains the funds awarded by the Human Rights Claims Board while Mr. Casambre’s were savings from his allowances as an NGO worker, various honoraria and gifts from family members. It is not enough that they, and other peace consultants, are languishing in jail right now after trusting the government that they were supposed to be covered by their mutual agreement, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), but their savings cannot be accessed by their families as well.

As church leaders, we are highly alarmed at these developments. However, we will not falter in our belief and call that the most viable option for a just and lasting peace is through a negotiated peace settlement coupled with meaningful social and economic reforms. We affirm that a peace process that addresses social injustices is the will of God and we will not stop working for it.

We appeal to the government to rescind its designation of the NDFP as a terrorist organization and recognize the lasting devastation this will have on the Filipino people’s trust in the government’s competence to resolve internal conflicts through peaceful negotiations.

We continue to appeal to both parties to return to the negotiating table. We also call on our people to pray and work for peace and support prospective candidates in the coming elections who are committed to genuine peace. Let us find inspiration in these words from the Bible: “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18, NIV).

Issued and signed this 21st day of July 2021.