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Priest backs call for NDF-gov’t peace talks

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MANILA, July 3, 2014 – A Sorsogon priest on Thursday expressed support for a human rights group’s call on government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) to consider the resumption of peace talks following a spate of insurgency-related violence and deaths in Bicol.

Fr. Bong Imperial, an advocacy priest, said the statement by Karapatan-Bikol on Thursday seeking the reopening of peace negotiations is timely to prevent escalating hostilities and killings linked to the armed conflict in the region and other parts of the country.

St. Joseph Parish Church in Barcelona, Sorsogon is where PO3 Christopher Escreza was shot dead allegedly by members of the New People’s Army (NPA) on June 11. (Photo: Oliver Samson)

National level, not local

In the statement, Karapatan-Bikol spokesperson Vince Casilihan said the continuing suspension of peace negotiations not only gives rise to more violence and deaths, but also “derails progress and development in the countryside.”

Both Casilihan and Imperial favor the resumption of peace talks at the national level, not the local peace initiative pushed by local politicians and other government officials.

Remote areas in Bicol and other parts of the country remain hosts to the long-standing conflict between government troops and NPA guerillas for the past 40 years, Casilihan said, specifically mentioning the death of Elias Garduque, a farmer, who was killed after a Philippine Army’s (PA) Scout Ranger fired at his house where NPA guerillas ducked for cover at barangay Balocawe, Matnog, Sorsogon on May 23 this year.

Garduque’s wife and one year old son were wounded, Imperial said. Despite the the military’s insistence that the widow is a combatant, Imperial stressed the observance of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), which states that non-combatants trapped in the encounters should be spared at all times.

Human rights issues

“Non-observance of the provisions of CARHRIHL becomes a human rights issue,” Casilihan pointed out.

According to Casilihan, aside from the CARHRIHL, “which is already in effect”, the peace talks should cover the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), Constitutional Reforms and the Cessation of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces

“We opine that both parties of the conflict must adhere to The Hague Joint Declaration that carries the four substantive agenda of the peace talks,” he said. “This is not within the scope of a local government to undertake.”

The list of casualities on both sides is growing.

Intelligence operative (PA) Sgt. Rene Madrona, an intelligence operative, was shot dead by armed men near his house on June 10; the following day, PO3 Christopher Escreza, a Philippine National Police (PNP) intelligence officer, was also killed by gunmen at the gate of St. Joseph Parish Church in Barcelona.

On its website, the NPA claimed responsibility for both murders.

The NDF also lost its spokesperson for Bicol Region Greg Bañares, and seven of his comrades on July 4 last year during an encounter with government troops at barangay Upper Calmayon, Juban in Sorsogon. (Oliver Samson)


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