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CBCP as peace talks mediator is presumptuous – Sison

Interview with Jose Maria Sison on Bishop Villegas’ “peace mediator” message

By Roselle Valerio
Liberation International

It is gratuitous, if not extremely presumptuous, for the CBCP to imagine that it can ever become a mediator in the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations. What the NDFP has welcomed is the role of religious leaders as peace advocates who serve as moral bridge builders and promoters of the peace negotiations. Thus, the NDFP has always appreciated the work of Catholic bishops and other religious leaders in the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), the Ecumenical Bishops Forum on Peace, and the like.

Interview with Jose Maria Sison on Bishop Villegas’ “peace mediator” message

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By Roselle Valerio
Liberation International

Roselle Valerio: In a message issued on 10 November 2014, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines President, Bishop Socrates B. Villegas speaks about a request made for the CBCP to mediate in the peace talks between the government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Bishop Villegas did not reveal who made that request. Did the NDFP ever make such a request for the CBCP to mediate in peace talks?

Jose Maria Sison: The NDFP never made a request to the CBCP or the CBCP President to mediate in peace negotiations between the NDFP and the GPH. It cannot make such a request to the CBCP because there is a clear secular framework for peace negotiations laid down by The Hague Joint Declaration, signed by both parties in 1992. The NDFP has a high sense of the modern democratic principle of the separation of church and state.

RV: In the ongoing peace negotiations, the Royal Norwegian Government is the Third Party Facilitator. In none of the previous agreements is there mention of a “mediator”. What do you think would be the role of the CBCP or Bishop Villegas as “mediator”?

JMS: Only Archbishop Villegas can say who told him to consider making the CBCP mediator. Perhaps, the term is being played with by persons who do not know the meaning of mediator in peace negotiations under international law. The term “mediator” is a highly elevated term for a third party state or interstate agency which has powers sometimes going up to the level of arbitration between two belligerent parties. The NDFP is extra careful about having a mediator.

RV: In his message, Bishop Villegas reveals that his information comes from the GPH panel and he echoes the acknowledged source. What is your comment on the notion that NDFP representatives in Utrecht are out of touch with developments in the field?

JMS: Archbishop Villegas should review the most authoritative public statements of the central leading organs of the CPP and NDFP, and the central command of the New People’s Army, that the leadership of the revolutionary forces is based in the Philippines. The NDFP Negotiating Panel and its members have nothing to do with leading and administering the revolutionary movement in the Philippines. On the other hand, the NDFP Negotiating Panel is duly-authorized to perform the task of peace negotiations and as such, may request the NPA and other revolutionary organization in the Philippines for information that may be relevant to the performance of this task.

RV: Bishop Villegas attacks the NDFP as being insincere in the peace negotiations, claiming that it uses for its sole benefit the ceasefires and the safe conduct passes for its negotiators and consultants. He also claims that the peace negotiations have not borne substantial fruit. How do you respond to these claims?

JMS: Archbishiop Villegas needs to become better informed about the peace negotiations. He can start by conversing with both panels – the GPH and the NDFP – and not with just one. He does not have to meet them at the same time. The worst and most shocking part of his statement is that the peace negotiations have not borne substantial fruit, practically dismissing as worthless the hard work done by both sides in producing more than ten major agreements, including the framework of peace negotiations, the substantive agenda, the methods for making the comprehensive agreements, and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

RV: Notwithstanding Bishop Villegas’ attacks on the NDFP and the revolutionary movement, can the CBCP become a mediator in the peace negotiations? What sort of roles can Bishop Villegas, the Roman Catholic Church, and other religious institutions play in fostering peace in the country?

JMS: It is gratuitous, if not extremely presumptuous, for the CBCP to imagine that it can ever become a mediator in the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations. What the NDFP has welcomed is the role of religious leaders as peace advocates who serve as moral bridge builders and promoters of the peace negotiations. Thus, the NDFP has always appreciated the work of Catholic bishops and other religious leaders in the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), the Ecumenical Bishops Forum on Peace, and the like.

RV: Bishop Villegas opines that the “long-festering insurgency” is the problem, and that socialist societies are “impractical”. What’s your reaction to these views?

JMS: The revolutionary struggle of the Filipino people for national liberation and democracy is not the problem but is the solution to the long running problem of foreign and feudal domination. The struggle is well-grounded and is of great importance and consequence. It has gone on since 1896 and will proceed until it gains complete victory.

It cannot be discouraged or deterred by any anti-socialist or anti-communist statements. The prolonged and worsening crisis of the world capitalist system is once more generating the conditions for the rise of powerful anti-imperialist and socialist movements. It is reactionary for anyone to preach that capitalism is forever and can only be accepted and improved.

RV: At the concluding part of his message, Bishop Villegas categorically states that the CBCP “cannot take in the role of initiating, convening, mediating or presiding over a dialogue” between representatives of the NDFP and the GPH, and that, “under the present circumstances”, this “dialogue” cannot be part of the CBCP’s ecclesial mandate as an episcopal conference. What is your own concluding response?

JMS: The NDFP completely agrees that the CBCP is not at all qualified to take in the role of initiating, convening, mediating or presiding over the peace negotiations of the GPH and NDFP. The lack of competence is underscored by the CBCP President merely echoing the positions of the GPH, and exposing his ignorance of basic information surrounding the negotiations. It is fine that Bishop Villegas is aware of the CBCP’s limitations under its ecclesial mandate. The CBCP President should have been aware of this in the first place and avoided making a statement of presumptuous claims and outright attacks against the NDFP.

RV: Do you think that the views of Bishop Villegas on the peace negotiations and the social conflict in the country are shared by the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy and their constituency? What should be the attitude of the revolutionary forces in confronting the reactionary and ignorant views of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines?

JMS: The views of Bishop Villegas reflect the conservative character of the Roman Catholic Church as an institution of colonial origin, with substantial property interests in land and corporate stocks under the current ruling system of big compradors and landlords. But there can be a variety of views among the bishops, the lower clergy, and the church people in general because of the conflicting demands of the ruling classes and the masses of exploited and oppressed people who also belong to the church.

It is good that within the Church there are church leaders and church people who describe themselves as Christians for National Liberation and strive to build a church that serves the exploited and oppressed people and not the dominant foreign power, the local ruling classes and the institutional interests in the ownership of land and shares of stocks in corporations and banks.

The revolutionary forces should be patient and be persuasive in explaining their position to the bishops. They can take issues with any bishop by presenting the facts and arguments, and with due respect to their religious belief and sensibilities. In recent times, the people have seen how some church leaders can be so reactionary while others are so progressive. They have also seen how an increasing number of church leaders and church people have opted for the just path of national and social liberation.

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