SORSOGON CITY— Two potent allies are backing Sorsogon Gov. Raul R. Lee’s call on President Aquino to resume peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Philippine government.
In an interview with the Business Mirror on August 4, Teodorico Escanilla, spokesman of the human-rights group Karapatan Sorsogon, said they are supporting Lee’s call for the resumption of peace talks between the two parties.
The call is also backed by Sorsogon Catholic Bishop Arturo M. Bastes who gave statements to the local media confirming his support of the governor’s peace initiative.
“We support the resumption of peace talks between the NDFP and the government if the conduct is at the national level,” Escanilla told the BusinessMirror. “Peace talks should be taken up again at the soonest time possible to prevent violence between the Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP] and the New People’s Army [NPA].”
Armed conflict scares civilians not only in the province but in other parts of the country, particularly in remote areas, he said.
People are displaced from their homes and work, either afraid of being stuck in the middle of the crossfire or their rights violated, Escanilla said.
A number of civilians, mostly coconut and rice farmers, have voluntarily evacuated or were forced to leave their farm land and their family for fear they may get hurt for being suspected members or supporters of the AFP or the NPA.
For many years, innocent civilians have been hurt and have even died from stray bullets from either or both parties.
Escanilla said elements of both the AFP and the NPA who commit human-rights infractions shall be held accountable for their breach of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Law.
In early 1998, the GRP negotiating panel and the NDF signed the agreement to protect innocent civilians caught in the crossfire as well as combatants who surrender or have been rendered incapable of fighting due to sustained physical injuries.
Karapatan also blamed the military for the abuse of women in the insurgency-affected areas in the province which the AFP denied.
Escanilla said the government should address the roots of insurgency in the country to avert more bloodshed and death of innocents. He said NPA guerillas may put down their weapons if the issues they are fighting for are resolved.
“The government should push for genuine land reform and distribute land to landless farmers,” he said. “Workers’ welfare should be seriously taken cared of by ensuring that they are fairly and properly compensated and their tenure has security.”
Many NPA guerillas used to be landless farmers and workers who became disgruntled with the government’s failure to address their issues and resorted to armed struggle to resolve social problems, Escanilla said.
Armed conflict may continue unless the fundamental socio-economic concerns of the country that gravely affect the marginalized sectors of society are addressed, he said.
Lee’s call for the resumption of peace talks, even at the local level, came days after the encounter on July 4 between the NPAs and government troops in Upper Calmayon, Juban town.
The fight killed top NPA leaders in the province, including Greg Bañares, spokesperson of the NDF in Bicol; Ramil Añonuevo of the NPA’s national special operations group; and Christine Puche, Bañares’ wife.
In retaliation, the NPA launched two days later three coordinated raids on Philippine Army and Philippine National Police units in the towns of Gubat, Irosin and Casiguran, killing eight soldiers and wounding others, which the Army did not confirm.
The original article is published at Business Mirror on August 5, 2013.