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Zones of peace

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Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, STD

Along the Way

 

THE hope for peace dims. This is the headline of a newspaper a few days ago.

NPA guerrilla units have launched ambuscades and tactical offensives that resulted in casualties on the side of government forces. The AFP has increased military operations including the bombing of suspected NPA positions. The spiral of violence continues.

It seems that both the government and the NDF have become pessimistic in coming up with a peace agreement and both sides blame each other for the impasse.

In his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II, regards armed conflict as one of the manifestations of the culture of death. Working for peace, is therefore, part of the mission of the Church in promoting life. To be pro-life is to be pro-peace. The question is: what can the Church contribute in promoting peace? Coming up with another pastoral letter may be an option but it is not enough.

Twenty-five years ago, the CBPC Public affairs committee came up with the following proposals that remain relevant even today:

  1. The formation and proliferation of peace organizations—perhaps the recruiting of Basic Ecclesial Communities to be such organizations—will be effective in the creating and sustaining of a general movement for peace.
  2. Peace Zones, organized by the ordinary citizenry, should be encouraged and supported everywhere, as many of these formed as possible
  3. Peace Program too not directly geared towards a ceasefire or peace talks but towards ensuring development and greater justice for peace should also be multiplied and strengthened.

 

These proposals envision an important role of BECs as part of a grassroots movement promoting peace. The communities are encouraged to establish “Zone of Peace” where the combatants of both sides are asked to withdraw their forces and allow the residents to peacefully pursue socio-economic programs and projects that will bring about progress and development. At the same time, the communities join the clamor for ceasefire and the continuation of peace talks that would address the roots of conflict and the importance of justice as the basis for lasting peace.

Thus, in 1989, a BEC in Cantomanyog, Candoni (Negros) declared the first Zone of Peace. This was followed a year later by the BECs in Tulunan, North Cotabato.

The NPA and the AFP respected these Zones of Peace. The Zone of Peace in Tulunan expanded in four more neighboring barangays. In spite of these success stories, the Zone of Peace was not replicated by other BECs and parishes, except in Nalapaan, Pikit during the height of the armed conflict between the MILF and AFP. There were other Peace Zones established by civil society groups and local communities (e.g. Cotabato, Sagada, Sadanga) but these were not also later replicated.

Looking at the last 25 years, the Church and the BECs have not significantly contributed to the growth of a grassroots movement promoting peace.  A peace negotiation without the support and pressure coming from grassroots communities and civil society will not prosper. A peace negotiation is not only a matter between the government and the NDF. We are all stakeholders in the peace process. Perhaps, the time has come to seriously implement the proposal of the CBCP public affairs committee. This means that the leadership in the Church—the bishops and the clergy will have to animate the dioceses, parishes and BECs as well as mandated organizations and renewal movements to act for peace.

Promoting the establishment and proliferation of peace zones in BECs and parishes especially in areas affected by the armed conflict can send a message to both the government and the NDF that the people do not support their war and that they demand a final peace agreement that will lead to lasting peace.


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