Sunday, January 31, 2010

Just Talk

Aside from hand-outs, the secretariat are giving message pins and buttons inscribed with these words : “Just Talk”. They maybe pertaining to the office's commitment to the way of peace and resolution of conflict in the country : talking or negotiating in the manner that is just. But I, being an ordinary province boy, was just bothered by the word “just” in their slogan or catch word.

According to the invitation letter we received from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said office is calling this gathering to give us update on the status of the implementation of the National Peace Plan (NPP) and the current thrusts and directions of the comprehensive peace process and to orient us on the so-called “Projects for Peace” as a comprehensive programs between government and civil society especially at the community level in support of the peace process. But why only now that election fever is on? Is the issue of peace being pushed only during this politically-crucial period? In Occidental Mindoro, OPAPP became visible only in 2004 when it initiated, with the help of the vicariate, a province-wide consultation with our basic sectors in order for them to feel the pulse of the people, especially the masses, on peace-related local social issues then. Including some efforts in the documentation and facilitation of series of dialogues between the Mangyan leaders and Army Officers operating that time here in our province. But it stopped there. No concrete actions followed. When I was asked by my boss to attend this forum in his behalf, I immediately told my self, “Is this part of one big election brouhaha? ”

Yes, I was in Metro-Manila last Wednesday,- that was January 27, 2010 to participate in the Luzon Peace Partners’ Forum held at Astoria Plaza Hotel in Ortigas Center, Pasig City. The gathering was called by OPAPP and attended by around two hundred peace advocates from different regions and provinces in Luzon. The religious and tribal leaders, members of the academe, some military men, media people and personalities from various peace organizations were there. Except peace worker and advocates from the ranks of the Catholic clergy for it coincides with the Second National Clergy Conference at the World Trade Center in Manila. I, together with Rey San Jose, came to represent our director as delegates from Occidental Mindoro.

We were “star-struck” seeing those prominent people whose faces and stories we often see only on television and read about in broadsheets. Among those who took part in the workshops include Bishop Efraim M. Tendero of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC). Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer of the Sulong CARHRIHL was also there. We shared table with Atty. Eric F. Mallonga of the Child Justice League along with NGO representative from Baguio and the National Capital Region or NCR. It was indeed “star-studded”.

But I was moved by the opening remarks of Sec. Annabelle T. Abaya, the current Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process or PAPP. Prof. Abaya was appointed PAPP only last November 3, 2009. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo named her as her peace adviser after Sec. Avelino I. Razon, Jr. resigned last October to run for the mayoralty post in Manila for the coming 2010 elections. Abaya is from the academe. She is a consultant to various international and local agencies such as the USAID and the World Bank. She is a professor at the De La Salle University and the current president of the Conflict Resolution Group Foundation, Inc. She had also been a spokesperson for former president Fidel V. Ramos.

Abaya admitted that due to various factors, though she did not elaborate, OPAPP suffered a lot of drawbacks especially in their coordinating efforts with its peace partners nation-wide. In short, we, peace advocates and organizations who are in the forefront have been neglected in the last couple of (no election?) years. But Abaya, in her conversation (she prefer “conversation” instead of “speech” or “talk”) with us pointed out that there politics has no place in her current major move at OPAPP which is to give financial and logistical support to their partners in the provinces through the so-called “Projects for Peace CY 2010”. She reiterated that, “peace go beyond politics”. Abaya will stay as government’s chief peace negotiator only until June 2010 but she said that after her term, she will still be into NGO peace building advocacy work. With such short period of time as PAPP, she will be doing all what she can so that OPAPP’s resources will be used by their peace partners for their endeavors, projects and programs. “Peace is timeless.”, she added. “Put on the lens of peace and see what we can share.” Abaya concluded.

Among the thematic focus of OPAPP under Abaya today is Peace, Conflict and the Environment. This involves activities that address the issue of environmental degradation and climate change as they impact on local peace and conflict situation. To my mind, in the whole Mindoro island, mining and oil exploration, are the biggest threat to peace. We cannot talk of environmental protection without questioning the national goverment policies and laws on mining.

I was drowned by the intellectual discussion at the open forum so I grabbed the “Just Talk” button from the table, put it in my bag and smiled inside…

(Photo from the anti-Intex hunger strike at DENR)

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