Advancing Peace During a Pandemic

The first letter in the trilogy of letters published by former senator Wigberto “Bobby” Tañada and Edmundo “Ed” Garcia in “Reinvent Resistance,” which I introduced in my last column, is entitled End Armed Hostilities in the Midst of the Pandemic. It is a statement by Tañada and my friend Judge Sol Santos, a longtime peace advocate, in mid-May 2020, in reference to the United Nation Secretary General’s appeal to a “Humanitarian Pause” as he urged “to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus on the true fight of our lives.” It is addressed to fellow citizens, urging them to take a stand to put an end to armed hostilities in the midst of the pandemic.

The letter writers viewed the end of half a century of hostilities between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA) as imperative and urgent. With the outbreak of the worst public health crisis in over a century, an end to the interminable war between the two opposing forces has become not only unprecedented but most opportune. For them, the CPP/NPA rebellion, being the longest-running insurgency in the world, must not be a legacy to our youth.

At the time the letter was written, the momentary ceasefires separately declared by both sides had lapsed, and the possibility of the armed hostilities breaking out once again was a distinct possibility. The letter pointed out that the fighting has lost meaning even as the people are battling a virus that is both invisible and deadly, severely affecting livelihoods and the vast majority of the people are shuttered in lockdown.

The letter cited the message of the UN Secretary General: “… It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives . . . There should be only one fight in our world today, our shared battle against COVID-19.” It also cited an excerpt of the message by Pope Francis in his traditional Easter Message to the City and the World (“Urbi et Orbi”), where the Holy Father envisioned a world after the pandemic, and made “a stirring appeal for global solidarity aimed at combatting the contagion as well as enacting an immediate ceasefire on all conflict fronts — particularly, at this time when all our efforts must be focused on ending the scourge that has ravaged the lives of people in nearly all the continents.”

Tañada and Santos urge all of us to demand from both sides to end this “spiral of insanity.” They ask, rhetorically: How can we in conscience resume armed hostilities at this time? We daresay: “If you claim to fight in the name of the people, then we ask of you to stop the shooting on our behalf so that we can rebuild our lives that have been severely disrupted by this pandemic.”

Verily, the message that the letter was trying to convey to us is remarkable for its contemporaneity. This is the time to stay united, and to focus all our attention and devote every ounce of our time, effort and resource in fighting the coronavirus which is wreaking havoc not only in our country but in many other parts of the world. The virus recognizes no borders, political ideology or even economic status. This viral pandemic is “hostis humani generis” or the enemy of all mankind where everybody, from the lowliest to the mightiest must contribute his own share to the battle for the sake of all humanity.

To end this column, I pay tribute to Fidel Agcaoili who was chief peace negotiator of the National Democratic Front (NDF). When he died last July 23, 2020, the mourning was universal. His comrades in the Communist Party of the Philippines, his counterpart in the Philippine Government – Labor Secretary Bebot Bello, some generals even of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, my friends in the National Union of Peoples Lawyers (especially the young ones who were owed at the great humanity of the man), and many others grieved at his passing but celebrate a life well lived.

One tribute so well articulated that life of a warrior turned peacemaker: “He would have turned 76 on August 8, as the pandemic and political repression intersects globally and at home in the most monstrous of ways. But Ka Fidel Agcaoili lived through equally troubled times, emerging as one of the best from his generation to devote their lives to the people’s struggle for liberation until the end. It is difficult to let go of grief in increments and under these circumstances. But then distance also offers some space to honor a beloved figure who carried on with exemplary dignity, foresight, and unconditional care.”

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