House leaders cross party lines to back peace talks with Maoist movement

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

CONGRESSMEN crossed party lines on Tuesday to support peace talks between the government and Maoist leaders, a day after Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio likened negotiations to “an agreement with the Devil.”

“As the united voice of the House of Representatives, representing all political parties, we collectively express our unwavering support for President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s initiative for peace and national unity,” they said in a statement.

The push for peace talks — “a pivotal moment in our nation’s journey towards lasting peace and sustainable development — transcends political boundaries,” they added.

Ms. Duterte-Carpio is now under pressure to resign from the Cabinet.

She should resign if she could not support state policies, former Senator Leila M. de Lima, one of the staunchest critics of Ms. Carpio’s father, ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte, said in a statement.

Peace negotiations are not among the Vice-President’s “core competence” as Education secretary, she added. “She should resign as Education secretary if she keeps on publicly opposing BBM’s (Bongbong Marcos) Cabinet policy decisions that have nothing to do with DepEd,” Ms. De Lima said. “She cannot eat cake and keep it too. She can only go on criticizing BBM’s policies if she is no longer a member of the Cabinet and speaks only as VP.”

Ms. Duterte-Carpio on Monday opposed the amnesty program for rebel groups and peace talks with the Maoist movement.

In a video statement, she said the government could negotiate peace “without capitulating to the enemies.” The administration should instead boost the anti-communist task force, she added.

“We are united in the belief that through dialogue, empathy and mutual respect, we can overcome historical divides and build a more inclusive and peaceful nation,” the House of Representatives leaders said.

Among the parties that signed the statement were the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, Nationalist People’s Coalition, Nacionalista Party, National Unity Party, Partylist Coalition Foundation Inc. and Partido Navoteño.

Speaker Martin G. Romualdez said the push for peace talks is not a political move but a “moral imperative.” “Why should we be afraid of negotiating when we have a strong Armed Forces and a steadfast republic?” he said in a separate statement. “What are we afraid of when we know the country trusts the government?”

The House committees on justice and defense on Tuesday approved resolutions concurring with the state’s amnesty proclamations, including those covering Islamic groups.

Mr. Marcos has veered away from some of the key policies of his predecessor, standing up to China amid its aggression in Philippine waters and boosting security ties with the US. “The unity government is now fragile, and a tectonic shift will happen in the government in the next few weeks and months,” Gary Ador Dionisio, dean of De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde School of Diplomacy and Governance, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

It is noteworthy that Ms. Carpio opposed the talks in a recorded statement and not in a confidential memo to the President, Jean Encinas-Franco, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines, said via Messenger chat.“This is one area of governance where both of them should be on the same page,” she said. “The much-vaunted unity is dead.”

Ms. Duterte in April was named co-vice chairwoman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which is headed by the President. It was formed through a 2018 executive order issued by Mr. Duterte, who had vowed to crush the longest-running communist insurgency in the world.

House Deputy Minority Leader and Party-list Rep. France C. Castro said Ms. Duterte’s statement undermines “efforts to address the roots of armed conflict in the Philippines.” “Instead of promoting war, we call on the Vice-President and those she represents to support efforts towards a peaceful resolution of the armed conflict in the country.”

Philippine Catholic and Protestant bishops have also backed the peace talks, saying it could “mitigate human rights violations and the loss of lives.”

“We hope that the joint statement, which is an offshoot of the informal discussions that started in 2022 between the government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and facilitated by the Royal Norwegian Government, will be realized,” the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform said in a statement.

Several senators also supported the peace talks, including national defense committee chairman Jinggoy Estrada, who described the move as a “positive development in finding a peaceful resolution to the decades-long armed conflict.”

“I hope that this development will lead to a cessation of hostilities, one that we can sustain moving forward for the benefit of communities in the countryside,” Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian said in a separate statement.

“Between Filipinos, we should always be open to dialogue,” Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel said.

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