Speech of Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles at the Opening of the Formal Negotiations between GPH and NDF

OPENING STATEMENT

By Sec. Teresita Quintos Deles

Presidential Adviser on the Peace ProcessOpening Ceremony

Formal Negotiations between GPH and NDF
I come to Oslo with a heady mix of dread and expectation, not unlike a woman in the throes of childbirth, knowing that what she does, or does not do, will have grave implications for the future. I also find it striking that here in the deep Oslo winter, we seek to thaw relations long frozen between GPH and NDF.

I know I don’t really have to be here because the job of negotiation belongs to the GPH Panel, which is doing very able job of it.  I came on the Panel’s invitation to demonstrate the seriousness of the Philippine government in its peace agenda and to signify to our people the importance of this movement of restarting peace talks after a six-year impasse.

I also came to express our appreciation to the Royal Norwegian Government for having stayed through the process in spite of the roller coaster character of high-stakes negotiations.  Thank you, RNG.

Now let me raise three questions for our collective dialogue and debate; and, if not, at least for our individual consideration and reflection.

First, where are we coming from?

Second, where are we headed for?

Third, what blocks the way from here to there?

Or, put differently, what caveats and challenges do we face?

Where are we coming from?

As you may know, my world was NGO—non-governmental organizations—before I joined government.  And my NGO advocacies—peace in particular—have become the leitmotif for my stint in government, interrupted for some time because I lost faith in its leadership. But now I am back in place with the resurgence of bona fides in the May 2010 elections.

As a representative of government, I take pride in introducing my principal—Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino—scion of the martyred Ninoy Aquino and of Cory Aquino who started this peace process a quarter of a century ago. Noynoy’s lineage, to a great extent, explains who he is and what he stands for.

When he declared in his inaugural address that the ultimate goal of national security “must be the safety and well-being of our people,” this was not mere rhetoric.  Because Noynoy knows what it is to be unsafe, bearing in his body the scars and bullet fragments from one of the many coup attempts that shook his mother’s presidency. But, in a larger sense, we come from a country weary of war.

From our revolution over 200 years ago to our bloody birth as a nation a century ago, we fought the Spanish and, later, the Americans and, much later in the second world war, the Japanese.   The perception of an unjust peace ensuing from World War II compelled some of our countrymen and women to take up arms once more, this time against government.  And so the question of justice and equity has continued to haunt all our efforts at nation-building.

What has been called the longest-running insurgency in our part of the world has torn families, communities, and the country apart. In the ‘70s and ‘80s it drew from the best and the brightest, the first fruits of the youth and student movement.

Many of the GPH Panel members have come from this tradition, and all of them have paid their dues in the struggle: Pablito Sanidad and Alex Padilla, human rights lawyers; Jurgette Honculada, gender and labor rights advocate; Ednar Dayanghirang, a voice for the indigenous peoples; and Lourdes Tison, environmental activist. The cost in lives and a stunted economy is incalculable.

There also are more insidious costs: a deepening culture of violence that holds even young children in thrall; a culture of despair that breeds apathy and cynicism across generations; a polarized mindset that brooks no dissent, viewing the other as enemy; and descending into cut-throat hostilities that makes losers of us all. And yet there is a growing, surging current that says no more to war and war games.

 

From the remotest mountain and coastal villages to our urban poor and middle class communities, the clamor for peace cannot be denied.  Our people are saying, the landscape of war must give way to the imperatives of peace.  And they have created zones of peace, sanctuaries of peace to provide safe haven from abuse and bloodshed by the militias of any stripe or color.  It is this call to make of the entire country a zone of peace that gives us our mandate to come to the negotiating table once more.  This and the attendant realization that the war cannot be won by force of arms on either side.

 

Where are we headed for?

 

 

GPH seeks a political settlement as the way to a just and enduring peace.  We have no illusions that signing a peace treaty will solve all our problems.  Not at all, for peace without justice, peace without development is a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.  But a political settlement, a peace treaty, will be a beginning. Stilling the guns of war is essential to harnessing all our resources for nation building, especially at a time when the global economic crisis has hit hard countries like the Philippines. Clearly, there is much that divides the two panels that come to this table.

 

On both sides, there is a legacy of pain; but there is also much that unites us—the vision of a just society, the desiderata of national sovereignty, the wish to reverse the drain in human and natural resources, the imperative of good governance; and more.  It is on this common ground, this interface, that we come to the table, seeking to negotiate our differences and to deepen our unities. Is this baying for the moon?

 

They said this of Sinn Fein and the IRA, of the internecine conflict in South Africa, in Aceh and Nepal.  And yet, Northern Ireland and South Africa, having taken the path of peace, have stayed the course, finding it infinitely more rewarding than shooting each other down. Since I am supposed to give just some remarks, let me end with my final point which is: What blocks the road to peace?  What are some of the caveats and challenges?

I do not presume to be exhaustive or comprehensive but let me sum up the caveats thus: let it not be said that the peace talks failed because of a failure of nerve, a failure of will, a failure of the imagination on our part.  I say a failure of nerve because, having marched for so long to the drumbeat of war, we are unnerved by the fear of losing our step.  I say failure of will because we would rather stick to our old formulas rather than risk losing ground and losing face.  I say failure of the imagination because we cannot let go of our fossilized ways of thinking and doing things, blind to the fact that the way to life is to make all things new.

As well, let me underscore just two of the multiple challenges we face. The first challenge is to tackle the substance of peace—socio-economic reforms, for instance—and not just its form, which is what pacification is.  Both sides, in fact, have been guilty of military reductionism, of believing that arms will win the day. It will not.

What will help win the day—and this is the second challenge—is building and strengthening our peace constituencies. Our publics, our people—and not just our principals—must ache for peace so badly, they will vote with their feet, they will say “Enough!” to the hawks and warmongers in their ranks and in the leadership on  both sides.

They will turn the narrative of war into the narrative of peace. Let me end with a footnote on the Vikings, those fearsome warriors from whom present-day Swedes, Danes and Norwegians are descended, including, I daresay, our hosts Espen, Knut and Ture; Aina, Ida, and Thomas.  Part of it may be myth but the Vikings, it seems, were born to do battle.

And yet—wonder of wonders—the Scandinavians now lead in global peacemaking—from South Africa to Palestine to Nepal. If the Vikings could, over generations, turn their spears into pruning hooks and learn war no more, to borrow from the Bible, then, just maybe, can these talks signal the beginning of the end of our own intractable decades-old war?

On the other hand, late breaking news from the Philippines, about arrests and ambuscades, are a portent of alarms on the landmines that we must face here in Oslo. But I believe with all my heart that we must find a way to negotiate these landmines together. The fact is that the government is currently engaged in the peace process not with two, not with three, but with five armed groups.  And two of these are in negotiations with government: the MILF and NDF.

The speed with which the peace process with the MILF is proceeding enables even the most jaded among us to dare to hope that peace is indeed possible. And, therefore, maybe I should end with a caveat: if we are not ready for peace right here, right now, then peace will find another way.  A way that will not have to wait another twenty-five years, that will not have to wait for another five panels—to come into its own and bring peace and joy and laughter to our beloved land and our beloved people.

And so what we do, or do not do, in Oslo this February is, for us Filipinos, a matter of life and death.  On this hopeful, and yet somber, note, I wish you a good day.#

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