Today, December 4, 2018, the relatives, friend, colleagues, parishioners and the Filipino people will offer a prayer for a beloved priest who died while doing an extraordinary ministry. He assisted a suspected revolutionary person.

On December 4, 2017 at around 8:00 o’clock in the evening, Fr. Marcelito “Tito” Paez, was shot while driving his vehicle at San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija. Fr. Paez was pronounced dead at the hospital. At the time of his death, he made a last act of goodness which is an extraordinary ministry for ordained persons.

Fr. Tito had assisted in facilitating the release of political prisoner Rommel Tucay who was detained at the BJMP jail in Cabanatuan. He was remembered as coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Central Luzon, a leader of a church peoples’ organization and of the mass movement in Central Luzon. Fr. Tito was a former parish priest in Guimba in the Diocese of San Jose, Nueva Ecija.

Fr. Tito Paez

The death of an activist priest is an offering to the call of the people to resolve the armed conflict in the Philippines through the peace talks. The call for justice in the killing of Fr. Tito, the murder of Atty. Ben Ramos in Negros Occidental, the Sagay 9 massacre, the killings and massacres of Lumad leaders, the arbitrary arrest and detention of Talaingod 74, the arrest and detention of the NDFP peace consultants, the filing of trumped up charges against activists, red-tagging and vilification among students, farmers and the people—these may be resolved if the armed conflict is properly addressed and resolved.

Benjamin Ramos, 56 years old, was Secretary General of the Negros Chapter of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL). He represented the Mabinay 6 and the victims of the Sagay massacre.

The militarist policy of the Duterte government to solve the armed conflict in the country is the same policy implemented by Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. and the succeeding regimes, with a slight exception to Fidel Ramos who tried to “use” the peace talks as part of his Philippines 2000 economic program.  Marcos declared Martial Law to “nip in the bud” the revolutionary movement, but then he was toppled down by the revolutionary movement and a popular uprising.

President Corazon Aquino “unsheathed the sword of war” against the revolutionary movement during her time. She inspired the formations paramilitary forces like the Alsa Masa and Nagasaka in Davao provinces, Sagrada Corazon Senior or the well-known dreaded ‘Tadtad’ fanatics who killed Fr. Tulio Favali, the Kuratong Baleleng of Ozamiz, and other anti-communist groups, to help the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) in suppressing the revolutionary forces but they failed.

Fr. Tulio Favali

The all-out war policy of the Estrada, Arroyo, Aquino regimes is directed by the United States and almost always a copy of the security policies of our former colonial master. The bootlicking of administrations post-direct US colonialism was the necessary evil for the US to continue to control us indirectly. And as crisis heightens, so does the continuing struggle of the people and this has been met by state forces with killings, massacres, forced disappearances, illegal arrest and detentions, harassments, vilifications and death threats, in order to subdue resistance. But poverty, ever as present in the country today, foments resistance.

At present, Karapatan reported that there are 13 massacres, 216 political killings and more than 20,000 killings related to the Duterte drug war and 540 political prisoners languishing in different detention cells in the country.

The data will continue to rise as the Duterte regime continues with its militarist policy. And we will see more of these: the AFP’s concocted Red October; the harassment of the communities of the Indigenous people (Lumad), like the Talaingod 74, peasant organizations, workers unions and progressive organizations ad partylists; the deprivation of Moro people from their homeland; vilification and harassment of churches and church people organizations; the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao, the Memorandum Order 32 also known as an order to quell “lawless violence”; the plan to legalize the Duterte death squad; the recommendation of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) to shut down progressive social media accounts; the continuing filing of trumped up charges against activists and revolutionary  individuals lead by the Inter-agency legal action committee (IALAC); the unjust war on drugs. All of these are proof of fascist attacks or de facto martial law.

Karapatan had conveyed that “Duterte and his State forces have declared an open season for killings and rights violations against Filipinos, particularly those that have continued to fight the government’s anti-people policies.”

But these government actions will not resolve the armed conflict.

What is an armed conflict?

Republic Act 9851 of 2009, Chapter II, letter c, defined armed conflict:

“Armed conflict means any use of force or armed violence between States or a protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within that State: Provided, That such force or armed violence gives rise, or may give rise, to a situation to which the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, including their common Article 3, apply. Armed conflict may be international, that is, between two (2) or more States, including belligerent occupation; or non-international, that is, between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within a state. It does not cover internal disturbances or tensions such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence or other acts of a similar nature.”

This definition is applied to the Communist Party of the Philippines, its armed wing the New People’s Army and the representative of its revolutionary government, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP); to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other armed revolutionary groups in the Philippines. The causes of these groups have been taken up in the international arena, where third party country facilitators have brokered formal peace negotiations.

In July this year, the GRP abandoned the negotiating table and intensify the implementation of the Oplan Kapayapaan (OpKap), a government counter-insurgency program patterned after the US Counter-insurgency (COIN) Guide of 2019.

Now, the COIN follows the “whole-of-nation approach,” which was also reaffirmed in the Joint Communique of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Manila on August 5, 2017. This was further elucidated in the Executive Order 70 released by Malacañang today. Said approach was to mobilize (even civilian) government agencies to address “the root causes of insurgencies, internal disturbances and tensions and other conflicts of threats.” The recent manifestation of this was the Talaingod 74 incident. When Ka Satur Ocampo, Rep. France Castro and 72 other participants of the National Solidarity Mission on November 28, 2018 were apprehended at the checkpoint, the local government unit (LGU), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Department of Rducation (DepEd) along with the 56 IB PA, Philippine National Police (PNP), paramlitary Alamara group were ready to arrest and detain them.

The Talaingod incident would be repeated and even intensified in any part of the country as the government forces will pursue the implementation of OpKap. These vicious attacks against the struggling and revolutionary people will surely fail but the people would experience more hardships and sacrifices as they oppose the OpKap.

On November 23, 2018 in Davao City, after its National Clergy Convocation, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente had released a statement, urging the Duterte regime to “Lift the Martial Law in Mindanao, Disregard Militarist Policy, Resume Peace talks.”

The statement said, “The viable and workable option is still the negotiating table. The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) had always declared that its negotiating panel is always ready to face its Government counterpart. President Rodrigo Duterte must order the government negotiating panel and resume the formal peace talks.”

The IFI clergy in the statement also “urge both Party to honor, uphold and respect the previous GRP-NDFP agreements, especially the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) so that the war will be humanized and human rights would be sustained even in the time of war.”

The IFI also called on the government to “honor and respect the Joint Agreement on Safe and Immunity Guarantees so that the Talks would be facilitated properly and substantially. Along with this demand, detained NDFP Peace consultants should be released and let them participate in the Peace talks. It is most appreciated if the Government will release all political prisoners as confident-building measures.”

The IFI pointed out: “Addressing the root causes of armed conflict is the finalization of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reform (CASER) which has enshrined the agrarian reform, rural development and national industrialization. This agreement will resolve the economic crisis in our country. This agreement will emancipate the farmers, the national minorities, workers, women, urban poor and other marginalized sectors in our society. This agreement will pave away to the next two more agenda of the Peace Talks which are the issues on political and constitutional reforms and the cessation of hostilities and disposition of forces, in which these agenda though basically hard to work out but easier than the social and economic reform.”

“Even the charter change and Federalism can be easily approved if these will be included in the discussion on political and constitutional reform. The question of cessation of hostilities and ceasefire can be easily resolved if the affirmation of our national independence and territorial integrity had been thoroughly discussed and agreed upon,” the IFI said.

The resolution of armed conflict is important even during midterm elections. The elected local national officials must recognize this need. The Duterte government will use its fascist machineries to deny the opposition of the votes of the people who call for the immediate resumption of the peace talks. The people must assert their human and political rights.

The IFI exhorted: “As the peace talks is needed for the country in this coming May 2019 Elections to prevent violence and war, we urge also to respect the rights of the poor, deprived and oppressed to exercise their freedom of suffrage. Their votes for the progressive parties and partylists and their candidates who are nationalists, pro-people and progressives must be respected and protected.”

“To ensure and facilitate a fair and less violence Elections in our country, the military, paramilitary and PNP special action forces must stay in their barracks during election times. The government must ensure that harassment, intimidation and death threats must be stopped,” the IFI statement concluded.

Seeking justice for all victims of human rights violations is a way of addressing the root causes of armed conflict in the country.

The sacrifice offered by Fr. Tito Paez, Atty. Ben Ramos and other martyrs of the movement for social change will be remembered and justice pursued until the armed conflict in the country shall be resolved.

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