A Buddhist monk’s challenge to clergy of all religions – Commentary, Hector Welgampola

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe pays respect to Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero - Ranil Wickremasinghe Facebook Photo.

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe pays his last respects to Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero – Ranil Wickremasinghe Facebook Photo.

“…grassroots-level clergy of all religions should commit themselves to the role Venerable Sobhitha Thero played as mentor and guardian of the people’s conscience. The time has come to take such commitment to apocalyptic fulfillment through an apolitical mass movement…” – Hector Welgampola

2015 was a momentous year in the history of Sri Lanka. It began with a decisive presidential election followed by a significant parliamentary election. The polls led to an unlikely merging of two political teams led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. They were welcomed as implementers of a reform agenda pioneered by a charismatic Buddhist monk– Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero.

Soon after facilitating such triumph of people power, the king-maker withdrew to his temple, thus providing space and time for the new leaders to implement the program of Good Governance championed by him. However, like émigré who forgot nothing and learned nothing from the French Revolution, many political vermin of all parties lost no time in an eager rush for perks and privileges. While the frustrated prelate was contemplating the next move of his prophetic mission, he fell ill and died, a virtual white martyr in a campaign for social justice.

The new rulers hastened to give a State funeral to the venerable thero whose untimely death is mourned by the entire Nation. Even the Catholic Church held a Nov. 23 memorial in his honor. Eulogizing the prelate’s prophetic self-giving, his close collaborator Father Reid Shelton Fernando reportedly compared the prelate to Prophet Jeremiah. It was an appeal for further pursuit of the prelate’s prophetic commitment of witness to social justice. No doubt a tall order for puny politicians!

The politically dissipated new rulers too have rushed in to recommit to Venerable Sobhitha’s agenda, though emphasis seems to be more on constitutional reform and less on wiping out the endemic cancer of corruption. The Western-style perception of reform as political tinkering has been deep rooted in the psyche of the country’s political establishment. Unfortunately, the momentary dazzle of such political tinsel has often anesthetized the public and distracted their yearning for a moral ethic in politics: a weakness that has riddled the country for centuries.

By coincidence, this year also marks the bicentenary of the political cataclysm of 1815, which has been innocuously recorded as the year when the British completed their capture of then Ceylon. Until recent times, little was spoken of the local political establishment’s connivance in that transfer of power to the colonizers. Much less was highlighted about the polity’s spontaneous protest symbolized by a Buddhist monk courageous enough to rise against the aristocracy’s surrender of a Nation’s self-respect. History records how he pulled down the British flag and re-hoisted the flag of the country’s last independent kingdom.

Venerable Wariyapola Sumangala Thero’s action on behalf of his Nation was the symbolic launch of a people’s political protest that kept struggling in varied forms to survive for over a century. His 1815 protest surfaced and resurfaced in the form of popular riots, rebellions and uprisings in 1818, 1848, 1912 onward. Ultimately, such protests in the public square were hijacked by new rich urban elite seeking respectability of a tame path of constitutional reform to the delight of their colonial masters. 

That contrived process climaxed in the British-style dominion status leading to political independence in 1947. Just as the Nation’s cause of selfhood was nobly pioneered by generations of Buddhist clergy, its blossoming into a popular movement was thwarted by the money-culture- addicted business elite striving to emasculate it into a tool of economic dominance and political control. And from the early years of political independence, the parliamentary system became a forum to entrench family power, and share political spoils based on subtle racist and casteist criteria. That led in no small measure to the uprisings of the post-independence period. We do not need to go down that path again.

This bi-centenary year of the 1815 political upheaval has begun to be marked by still newer waves of constitutional pyrotechnics to divert the Nation’s need for moral reawakening and elimination of corruption at all levels. Political lobbies have proved themselves impotent in fulfilling that momentum perceived by Sobhitha Thero as a prophetic mission. It was part of a grassroots-level spiritual mission nurtured by generations of non-hierarchical Buddhist clergy including more recent plebian-allied prelates such as Venerable Heenatiyana Dhammaloka Thero, Venerable Yakkaduwe Pragnarama Thero and Venerable Siri Seevli Thero.

If that mission of apolitical social engagement is not to be frittered away, grassroots-level clergy of all religions should commit themselves to the role Venerable Sobhitha Thero played as mentor and guardian of the people’s conscience. The time has come to take such commitment to apocalyptic fulfillment through an apolitical mass movement.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

ISIS, 21st century youth and the 2015 synod on family – Commentary

 Manila,NJ Viehland

Manila, NJ Viehland Viehland Photos

 

“Re-communing with the divorced world of youths is a priority task for next October’s second Synod on Family. Indeed, that will be a more realistic pastoral agenda than theological cud chewing about Communion to marital divorcees….”

 

Commentary: ISIS needs ‘Assisian‘ responses, not sniping crusades

By: Hector Welgampola

Amid ongoing Islam-bashing worldwide, comes a bit of good news from the Arab world. According to media reports, in April Qatar will name the recipients of that country’s WISE (World Innovative Summit for Education) Awards for 2015. Given by Qatar’s Education City, these awards have been described by BBC as an effort to recycle oil and gas into knowledge.

“The Emir of Qatar believes that a new golden age can be achieved through education and research coupled with creativity and development,” wrote James Martin, founder of Oxford University’s 21st Century School. The Qatar project would seed “a new Arab renaissance bringing multicultural tolerance, new ideas and education action across the Arab world,” he claimed. Others pin hopes on the project’s Faculty of Islamic Studies, despite lingering suspicion that Qatar funds reach jihadists.

While saluting the project, BBC noted how “events of the Arab Spring have shown the dissatisfaction of a young population with rising unemployment and lack of opportunity.” The Arab world’s youth frustrations have been aggravated by the post 9/11 frenzy to militarily intervene there with a fantasy to impose Western-style panacea for local problems.

Just as lack of social justice incubated communism, prolonged abuse of Arab countries as mere oil wells festered social ills that reignited Islamic militancy. A belated sense of guilt for such abuse led some developed countries to support the Qatar project. A similar sense of guilt should help affirm the inadequacy of military responses to curb frustration-fed jihadism.

Hired armies lack motivation to wipe out guerilla cults or jihadist passion. And eliminating Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi or Osama Bin Laden did not make the world any safer. If al Qaeda was a geographically diffused ad hoc network, its modern avatars like ISIS and Boko Haram showcase bin Laden’s dream caliphate still thriving and on martyrdom. The apocalyptic cult goes beyond self-immolation to the ruthless slaughter of those considered to be infidels. It now threatens West Asia, North Africa and beyond.

If Islamism’s extremist outreach has gone viral, it has also gone global. It attracts youths from two sources. Unsurprisingly, it volunteers youths from Islamic nations. Addressing a recent Christian-Islamic dialogue meet run by Nigerian bishops, an Islamic scholar attributed the rise of Boko Haram partly to “the impunity, bad governance and corruption of Nigerian elite.” Qatar-type projects may help replace such self-serving elite with socially committed cadres.

ISIS also draws youths worldwide. Its media-hyped fantasy appeals to listless young men and young women wearied by the depravity of secularized post-christian society. Maybe, an erratic society’s death-peddling obsession with abortion and mercy killing has so desensitized the young even to fancy jihad as an option. Frequent news reports confirm how the jihadist mirage attracts spiritually starved youths from all continents. But, sadly, such youths’ home countries fail to get the message. Their rulers try to prevent the outflow of youths with laws to muzzle social media, patrol borders or deny passports – all inept measures.

Instead, leaders of state, society and religion should heed the unspoken outcry of desperate youths fleeing parents, siblings, peers, churches and country to embrace jihad. The thousands of young men and women opting for jihad are our own sons and daughters. Their drift to ISIS speaks of our generation’s moral failure. Their spiritual thirst is an indictment of our ineptitude to offer them a meaningful goal of holistic life. So, let’s stop stigmatizing them as misled youths or blessing counter crusades. Today’s society needs to find solutions by re-examining our distorted faith-life, fractured family-life, consumerist lifestyles and counter values based on worship of money-culture.

As evident in the recent Germanwings plane crash too, all youths blamed for atrocities are not jihadists. The crisis of today’s youths should alert society to our long abuse of social structures as a mask for power play. Churches and Nations need to return to a moral ethic and restore honesty in public life. The need to wipe out the scandal of duplicity in religio-ethical and socio-economic life was never more urgent. And Church youth apostolates and family apostolates should be so re-oriented as to attract, involve and inspire all levels of youth life and activity.

Meanwhile, initiatives like the March 24 Catholic-Muslim summit in Rome can offer further hope. Interestingly, Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, Vatican head for interreligious relations, told the meet of his wish to set up a more permanent mechanism for such interaction. For a moment, it brought to mind the environment of interreligious amity facilitated decades ago by the BIRA (Bishops Institutes for Interreligious Affairs) meets and live-ins organized by FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences). Such interfaith action-in-prayer fosters inclusive pluralism. And a response of relational sacramentalty can better facilitate social awakening than statements, episcopal or papal.

That sacramental mission has to awaken the 21st century Church to a Jesus-like embrace of all youths divorced from community by post-christian secular cults. Re-communing with the divorced world of youths is a priority task for next October’s second Synod on Family. Indeed, that will be a more realistic pastoral agenda than theological cud chewing about Communion to marital divorcees. And instead of premising the synod with a requiem for martyred Christians, let reflection on the waste of life of both jihadists and their victims inspire the synod to seed a Church of Assisian service to the human family.

Hector Welgampola
welgampo@gmail.com

Hector Welgampola

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Carry on goal to protect minorities’ freedom, punish perpetrators – US commission to Sri Lanka gov’t.

Sri Lanka's new President Maithripala Sirisena screenshot Sri Lanka Mirror Facebook

Sri Lanka’s new President Maithripala Sirisena screenshot Sri Lanka Mirror Facebook

A US delegation, which visited Sri Lanka to assess the climate for religious freedom, other human rights, and tolerance, have noted progress on the issues in Sri Lanka since the country’s 2015 election. It cited the importance of punishing perpetrators of attacks and stopping harassment of religious groups trying to build houses of worship.

Commissioner Eric P. Schwartz of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said he met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera, Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa, Minister of Buddha Sasana Karu Jayasuriya, and Minister of Muslim Religious Affairs Abdel Halim Mohamed Hasheem, as well as representatives from Sri Lanka’s diverse religious communities during the March 15-17 visit.

“We are encouraged by statements made by officials with whom we met,” Schwartz said in a statement posted on the commission’s website.

He cited  among “welcome” developments comments he heard supporting national reconciliation among all Sri Lanka’s religious and ethnic communities. 

“After a devastating war and reports that religious minority communities were increasingly subjected to attacks in recent years, the new government’s engagement with religious minorities is an important step forward in the effort to promote national unity and increased space for all religious groups,” the commissioner pointed out.

He also cited government’s measures in the areas of freedom of expression and association noting these “tend to create a climate conducive to religious freedom.”

Buddhism is the official religion in the country where Buddhists reportedly comprise more than 69 percent of the 21.87 million people. Most of the rest are Muslims (7.6 percent) or Hindu (7.1 percent). Christians make up about 6.2 percent of the population.

Expressing pleasure in hearing that reports of abuses against minority religious communities have diminished over the last few months, Schwartz encouraged the government to hold perpetrators of such crimes accountable. “We believe accountability will encourage a critical sense of security and well-being among affected communities,” he stressed.

He also said representatives of civil society at meetings reported “continued concerns about the ability of religious communities to practice their chosen faiths without restriction,” citing experiences of intimidation or harassment when trying to build houses of worship. 

“We hope and trust Sri Lankan officials will address these issues in the weeks and months to come,” Schwartz said.

The U.S. Congress created USCIRF in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) as an independent, bipartisan, federal government entity to monitor the status of freedom of religion or belief abroad and provide policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.

Maithripala Sirisena won as president in the Jan. 8 polls set by incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the latter’s bid to seek a third term. Sirisena has pledged to abolish the executive presidency within 100 days of being elected, and repeal the controversial eighteenth amendment and restore the 17th amendment that limits the president’s rule to two terms and sets other restraints on the presidency.

 

Bishop in northern Sri Lanka, Tamil alliance protest postponement of war report

Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar on Tuesday (Feb 24) joined a demonstration led by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) against the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) decision to delay the release of a report on issues of accountability during the Tamil separatist war and the post-conflict period.

However, Bishop Thomas Savundranayagam of Jaffna where the protests were held refrained from joining the protest due to the participation of politicians in the event, Sri Lankan online newspaper, The Island, reported on Thursday. 

TNA (Tamil: தமிழ்த் தேசியக் கூட்டமைப்பு) is a political alliance in Sri Lanka composed of moderate Tamil parties as well as number of former rebel groups that has participated in elections since 2001.

Bishop Joseph meanwhile reportedly called the deferment of the report’s release as UNHRC’s deception of the Tamil people who have no faith in a domestic investigation of war crimes under any government. 

Read The Island’s full report

On the day of the protest, the Tamil Civil Society Forum (TCSF) and the Welfare Organisation for the Forcibly Disappeared Persons also jointly decided in Jaffna not to appear and give evidence before the Presidential Commission to Investigate Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (PCICMP).

In their statement released Feb. 27 the forum convened by Bishop Joseph listed reasons why it is convinced that a credible inquiry is possible only through international means.

It noted that while the government has promised to create a credible domestic mechanism for probing alleged atrocities it “seems to continue with the approach adopted by the previous regime towards truth, justice and accountability of which your commission’s continuance is a prominent example.”

“We cannot afford to continue to appear before this commission giving it a stamp of legitimacy,” Task Force leaders wrote.

The UNHCR investigated allegations of war crimes following a resolution adopted last March, and planned to present its report during next month’s session. However the UN body announced it would issue its report in September instead after newly installed Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena assured that government would conduct an impartial and transparent domestic probe into allegations of atrocities. 

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister had reportedly asked the UN body to give the administration installed in January more time to establish a new judicial mechanism to deal with the fallout of the investigation.

Alleged war crimes include attacks on civilians and civilian buildings, and executions of combatants and prisoners by both the Sri Lankan military and Tamil Tigers  – the guerrilla organization established in 1976 that sought to establish an independent Tamil state of Eelam in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. 

Sri Lankan military and paramilitary groups backed by them were also accused in enforced disappearances and acute shortages of food, medicine, and clean water for civilians trapped in the war zone. Tamil Tigers were allegedly recruiting children as fighters.

The group gained control of Jaffna Peninsula by 1985, two years after escalation of violence between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lanka military. It lost control of Jaffna in October 1987 to an Indian peacekeeping force that had been sent to Sri Lanka to assist in the implementation of a complete ceasefire.

However, following the withdrawal of the IPKF in March 1990, the Tigers grew in strength and conducted several successful guerrilla operations and attacks around the country and in India.

Earlier in 1981, Pope John Paul II created Mannar diocese from territories formerly under the pastoral care of the Jaffna diocese.

 

CBCP President on ongoing Mamasapano investigation

SEEKING TRUTH AND JUSTICE
PURSUING PEACE

CBCP Statement on the Ongoing Mamasapano Investigation

CBCP 2015 Archbishop Villegas NJ Viehland

CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan at the end of the bishops’ plenary assembly Jan. 2015 at Pius XII Catholic Center, Manila. – NJ Viehland Photos

Congress has commenced its inquiry into that sad episode of our recent history — the slaughter of 44 gallant men of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police.  We note that the two chambers of the Legislature have opted to conduct separate investigations when a joint inquiry would have allowed for a more expeditious investigation and would have obviated the possibility of findings at loggerheads with each other.

Truth and Accountability

The President and his advisers must give a full and satisfactory accounting of their actions in respect to this tragic loss.  The targets of the SAF operations were characterized as “high value targets”.  If the police went after them, it can only be because they were ordered to do so.  Policemen do not order themselves, not even members of the Special Action Force.  Indeed, that is what corroborated statements now clearly establish: The decision was made on the highest levels to go after these “high value targets”.  The only thing that was awaited was “the window of opportunity”, a judgment that is made by people on the ground.

Questions call for unequivocal and truthful answers.  Lives were needlessly lost because in many ways the operation was covert.  Why, for one, were the highest-ranking official of the Philippine National Police and his civilian superior, the Secretary of Interior and Local Government, left out of the loop of information, consultation and command?  It seems that a suspended police officer played more than a merely advisory role.  Why should he have been giving orders?  And if he was in fact issuing orders and commands, should it not be clear that his authority to do so, precisely because he was laboring under a legitimate order of suspension, emanated from higher levels?

The concealment of truth or the foisting of deliberate falsehood even to shield one’s superiors from embarrassment or to spare them indictment is always a moral wrong, especially in the context of legal processes and under oath.  When one swears to tell the truth and invokes the help of God, one is morally obligated to speak the truth.  We therefore urge all witnesses and all those in possession of information material to the resolution of facts in issue to speak the truth at all times.

 Heroes Among Us

As we did almost immediately after being informed of the gallant deaths of our SAF men, the CBCP extols their courage, their heroism and their fidelity to the call to duty.  We understand the heartaches of the SAF men and women who rightly have reason to feel that our leaders failed them.  While it is true that every person who dons the uniform either as a police officer or as a soldier puts his life on the line in the performance of his sworn duties, it remains the solemn moral duty of the national leadership to protect them from needless harm and to uphold their interests as well.  The human person is never merely a means, no matter how glorious, noble or desirable the ends may be!

quevedo bday bishops mejia NJ Viehland

[from right] Bishops Leopoldo Tumulak of the Military Ordinariate, Mylo Vergara of Pasig and Father Marlon Mejia, CBCP Secretary General in Cotabato City, Philippines.- NJ Viehland Photos

The Peace Process

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines offers its assistance to the pursuit of lasting peace, a settlement of differences that will allow the people of Mindanao, Muslims and Christians alike including indigenous peoples to live in peace and as equals, citizens of one Republic, nationals of one country.  We hold it to be morally obligatory for the government and for the restive segments of Philippine society to search for the paths of peace.

It is of course true that peace cannot rest on deceit, the suppression of truth and subterfuge.  This is the reason that getting to the truth of the Mamasapano tragedy is of paramount importance.  In fact we should learn from Mamasapano for we paid a heavy price to learn its lessons.  We have painfully been shown the pitfalls and the traps, the gaps and the lacunae of deals we have thus far entered into.

The goal cannot be the cessation of hostilities at any cost, but a principled settlement of the dispute, and peace born out of truth, a commitment to social justice and adherence to the fundamental law of the land!

If anything at all, Mamasapano should instill in all, especially in our legislators, a sense of circumspection in respect to examining the first draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.  Let the document be assiduously studied, fully debated and exhaustively examined.

The Moral Requisites of a Just Settlement

There has to be SINCERITY on both sides — on the side of government forces and agents and on the side of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  Hostilities must cease while legal processes must be observed.  Officers pursuing fugitives from justice or identified terrorists can never be the legitimate objects of attack.  Similarly where a truce has been agreed on, it is incumbent on all parties to hold their fire.  The government must resolutely pursue its projects for the further development of Muslim Mindanao and for the speedy and lasting attainment of social justice so that our Muslim brothers and sisters may fully share in the resources of the country and in the strides it makes towards prosperity.

The MILF must surrender the culprits: those who cut down the SAF 44 in the prime of their youth and must not interfere with their prosecution and their trial. The video clip that went viral showing the merciless execution of SAF men who were wounded and helpless cannot and must not be shrugged off.

The CBCP stands with the widows and orphans of the fallen to demand Justice and the indictment of the culpable.  It must also explain satisfactorily why international terrorists were within the territory supposedly occupied by them.

Finally, the arms and ammunition captured from the SAF and from other lawful agents of the Republic of the Philippines must be returned.  Justice and peace demand restitution of what one has wrongfully taken.

Solidarity in Prayer

The CBCP remains one with the grieving families of our fallen SAF men, as well as with the families of all who lost loved ones in this armed encounter.  Whether Christian or Muslim, we believe in a God who does not allow those who remain faithful to him to be lost.  We turn now in this moment of grief to the One Father of us all for consolation, strength and hope.

Appeal for True Patriotism

This is not the time for political opportunism.  This is not the time for adventurism or grandstanding.

While resolute action is necessary on the part of all, precipitous action and recourse to extra-constitutional measures will only visit more harm and misery on our people.

 The CBCP cannot lend its support to any movement that may bring greater suffering for our people.  We would do well to join in the debate spiritedly, to be zealous in ferreting out the facts and to be unyielding in demanding accountability.  But it is also our moral duty to be law-abiding citizens, animated at all times by the Gospel that insists that we love even those who we may find difficult to love!

No Peace Without Humility

 The Kingdom of God is as much a gift as it is a project, for while only God can make his kingdom come among us, he calls us all not only to preach it but, by our deeds, to make its presence tangible and real for the world.  Peace is the mark of this kingdom, and so it is that for a Christian there is no other way but to work for peace.  But time and again we have been taught that clever calculation, crafty speech and pompously worded documents never bring lasting peace.  It is when we humble ourselves and pray, and allow the Spirit to lead us that shall find that path of peace.

 The CBCP therefore invokes God’s Spirit even as it pledges that bishops individually and collectively will make themselves and their resources available for the demands of arriving at a lasting solution to the problem of turning swords into ploughshares.

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Intramuros, Manila, February 16, 2015

+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
President, CBCP

Papal Visit 2015 Sri Lanka: Pope Francis will be there – Cardinal Ranjith

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Preparations continue, and the Papal visit will take place, despite the doubts that clouded the event in the last months. The Sri-Lankan Church confirms Pope Francis’ pilgrimage from the 13th to the 15th of January; but President Mahinda Rajapaksa also confirms presidential elections on the 8th of January. In this state of affairs, the Pope is, whether he wants to or not, one of the deciding factors in the electoral campaign, in a contest between two candidates that promises to be very balanced. And, hopefully, it will be ‘free from any violence’ as the two candidates wished together in a public statement.

The first unavoidable aspect is exploitation…

Read full report ,La Stampa

Gov’t-Communist Party Christmas ceasefire “welcome” but… – peace advocates

Star hangs in Vietnam diocesan complex hosting FABC assembly

Vietnam diocesan complex, Xuan Loc, Vietnam / NJ Viehland Photos

 

STATEMENT ON CHRISTMAS CEASEFIRE 2014

December 20, 2014

May the Christmas ceasefire bring the gift of peace!

As citizens longing for lasting peace, we welcome the respective announcements by the Government and by the Communist Party of the Philippines of limited ceasefires for the Christmas period that covers the Papal Visit. We pray that there will be good will and effective compliance by the parties.

Indeed the visit of Pope Francis is an important event for many Filipinos that we hope will inspire them to live humbly and justly, to serve others and respect all creation.

We also urge the parties to consider the possibility of a humanitarian pause beyond the Papal visit, to give respite to victims of humanitarian disasters in different parts of the country, and to encourage the country as a whole to refocus thoughts on healing and on rebuilding vulnerable communities.

Our sincere wish is that this interval from armed confrontations can build confidence for the resumption for formal peace negotiations between the GPH and the NDFP at the soonest time, towards the forging of a just and enduring peace.

We believe that the peace negotiations will be sustained and less fragile if priority will be given to improving the situation of human rights, particularly of communities in conflict areas including those of indigenous peoples. Far too many indigenous people continue to become victims of extra-legal killings, harassment and other human rights violations.

The peace negotiations should be boosted by more concrete socio-economic reform efforts that make a difference in the lives of rural and urban poor communities. Electoral and political reforms must also be undertaken to ensure meaningful participation of people and the practice of good governance.

The public constituency will broaden around peace negotiations that can provide safety and security to communities by effectively reducing the violence on the ground. 

As citizen peace advocates, we commit to do our part by renewing and re-energizing our engagement with the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations. We will try to bring timely inputs of more stakeholders to the peace table. We will create other tables so that more voices of those directly affected by the protracted conflict can be heard.

Again, we are truly thankful to the Government and to the Communist Party of the Philippines for the gift of a Christmas ceasefire. May it establish a good beginning, a season of peace and grace in the New Year!

Signatories:

Center for Peace Education – Miriam College * Generation Peace Youth Network * GZO Peace Institute * Initiatives for International Dialogue * Koalisyon ng Mamamayan para sa Reporma *Pax Christi Institute *Philippine Council for Peace and Global Education * Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. * Waging Peace Philippines

Manila, screen shot

Manila, screen shot

Government announces unilateral ceasefire on holidays, Pope Francis visit

Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Dec. 15 announced a month-long unilateral truce with the communist New People’s Army, as it usually did during the Christmas and New Year’s season.

Key points of the ceasefire:

* starts midnight of Dec. 18 and will last until the midnight of Jan. 19.

* recommended by the military, concurred by the Philippine National Police, endorsed by the Department of National Defense to Malacanang, approved by President Benigno Aquino III
* Longer than usual truce lasts until Jan. 15 in keeping with the agreement reached by government and communist negotiators during a meeting in Netherlands.
* Authorities will continue serving arrest warrants against NPA rebels during the truce period. They said they are liable to courts that issued the warrants of arrest. – Catapang
*Military operations against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters will continue during the holiday season – Catapang
PEPP photo release

PEPP photo release

Ceasefire Declaration for traditional holidays, Communist Party of the Philippines anniversary, Pope Francis’ visit
By CPP Central Committee
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) hereby issues this ceasefire declaration to all commands and units of the New People’s Army (NPA) and people’s militia to take effect during the following periods:
12:01 am of December 24, 2014 to 11:59 pm of December 26, 2014;
12:01 am of December 31, 2014 to 11:59 pm of January 1, 2015; and
12:01 am of January 15, 2015 to 11:59 pm of January 19, 2015
During the aforementioned days, all units of the New People’s Army and people’s militia are ordered to desist from carrying out offensive operations against units and personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and the various armed paramilitary groups attached to the Government of the Philippines (GPH).
This declaration is being issued in solidarity with the Filipino people in their observance of traditional holidays which coincides with the CPP anniversary celebrations on December 26.
This ceasefire declaration is also being issued in deference to the upcoming visit of Roman Catholic patriarch Pope Francis which the Filipino people look forward to as an opportunity for religious celebration and to raise outstanding issues …
 
[The full text of the CPP announcement was posted on the website of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines information office.]