By Ben Cal
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Annabelle T. Abaya said that peace initiatives emanating from the community level are those that work best in eradicating insurgency, citing the success of Bohol as an example.
Abaya made the remarks at the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG) on the implementation of the Sorsogon Initiative to bring about sanctuaries of peace and development in the province.
The province of Sorsogon is one of the few remaining areas in the country where communist insurgency is active but which the government is dealing with through peace talks initiated by the local people themselves.
The Spanish government has allocated P20 million to finance various peace projects to support the Sorsogon Initiative.
The MOA signatories were Secretary Abaya in behalf of OPAPP, DILG Secretary Ronaldo V. Puno, who was represented by DILG Undersecretary Melchor Rosales; Spanish Ambassador Luis Arias-Romero on behalf of the Spanish government; Sorsogon Governor Sally Lee; Bishop Arturo Bastes of the Archdiocese of Sorsogon; and Atty. Loida Nicolas-Lewis, co-convenor of the Sorsogon Alliance for Peace and Development.
The signing was held at the Oakwood Premier in Ortigas Center, Pasig City on Tuesday.
"I would like to express my great thanks to the Spanish Government for the assistance they are giving us, not just now in this big project but also the smaller projects that led to this," Abaya said.
She also cited the efforts by the local stakeholder group in Sorsogon for working together with the OPAPP and the government peace panel to support the peace initiative.
"I hope that Sorsogon will really be such a big model for the communities that want peace. The peace talks, as we all know, are not in limbo. The peace talks are going on in an informal way but there is certainly interest on both sides to continue talking," Abaya said.
"There have been statements made by (Defense) Secretary Bert Gonzales that perhaps the local talks should begin in the Philippines. My response has always been the initiatives that emanate from the community are those that work best," Abaya said, adding, "We have seen that in Bohol and now we're seeing that in Sorsogon."
Bohol is the first province in the whole Philippines to have declared that the communist insurgency waged by the New People's Army (NPA) has been eradicated mid last year through a program initiated by Bohol Governor Erico B. Aumentado, providing livelihood to former rebels.
"These are models that other communities can look to. So while the peace talks remain as a door through which the leadership and the other members of the CPP/NPA/NDF can come in so that they can mainstream with us, there are still such initiatives such as the Sorsogon and even the Bohol Initiative, where people who would like to participate and really be truly involved in peace can really come in," Abaya said.
Abaya revealed that Sorsogon is close to her heart as a peacemaker herself.
"I would like to give you a message about how I felt about this Sorsogon Initiative when I heard that it was finally going to take place. This is very personal to me. I got involved in the Sorsogon Initiative at its very roots, through Loida Nicholas-Lewis," Abaya said.
Four years ago, Abaya went to Sorsogon to train a small group on how to dialogue.
"It was a very intimate group that really wanted to learn how to dialogue and I thought it was a very eye-opening experience, not just for them but also for me," she added.
"But that event was something very special to me because something very personal happened to me in that place. A day before I went to Sorsogon, it was Mother's Day and it was a big event because all my sisters and I gathered to be with our mother.
"That very day I told her that I was going to be away to Sorsogon but that I'll be back and I'll see her again.
"When I came back, I found out that my mother had died," Abaya recalled with sadness.
"I guess my mother pursued her own peace. So was I in Sorsogon trying also to pursue peace. Sorsogon is a very meaningful place for me because it brings out many memories about peace and in many different ways," she said.
"After that particular training in Sorsogon, they told me that the group that I trained had actually gone up to the mountain and started to do their dialogue. And after a few months I was informed that despite all of their fears, their anxieties, their trepidation, they finally got to have some very, very good dialogues and finally the people have started to ask what they can expect from government. And that we brought to the panel and we at the panel were at a loss because we didn't know it would happen so soon. And this was because of the dialogue that was started then.
"From then on it snowballed and then it gave way into several project and finally it has come to this, the Sorsogon Initiative, which I understand is going to be a much bigger project from what we originally had planned for," Abaya said. (PNA Features)