Col. Oscar Lactao, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said yesterday that the peace advocacy campaign in Negros Occidental is snowballing and continues to gain ground, although a lot has to be done yet to address poverty.
“Negros has gone a long, long way in terms of peace and order improvement,” Lactao said. He also cited the marked improvement in the relationship and coordination between the civil authorities, military and police, church, and civil society in the province.
He added that the participation of thousands of peace advocates in the five-day Peace Torch Relay, that covers 431 kilometers in Negros Occidental, is already a marked improvement in the peace consciousness of Negrenses.
The activity ends today at the Provincial Capitol Lagoon in Bacolod City, where relay participants from San Carlos City in the north, Hinobaan in the south and Don Salvador Benedicto in the east will converge for peace-related activities, expected to be participated in by Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra, Governor Alfredo Maranon Jr., Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta, Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz, regional police director, and Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia, among others.
Lactao said he expects that more than 1,000 peace advocates will attend the International Peace Day celebration today in Bacolod City.
The declaration of Martial Law is also expected to be marked with protest actions by its victims and progressive organizations in Bacolod City.
While Sept. 21 connotes a dark chapter in Philippine history with the declaration of Martial Law, the Kilos Kapayapaan, a society of peace networks, including the Paghili-usa Sa Paghidaet-Negros, said it is also the Peace Day celebration which highlights their assertion that peace requires that Never Again should the people allow the loss of their fundamental rights and freedoms.
The group also urged the resumption of stalled peace talks between the National Democratic Front and the government as soon as possible, “without any precondition”.
The government and the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade Tabara-Paduano Group, with about 700 members in Negros and Panay, are also expected to sign the closure peace agreement next month, as reported by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process.
Stressing that the incident of the Escalante massacre in 1981 is already a fact, Lactao said it is time to move on, and initiate measures to prevent a similar incident from happening again.
Karen Tanada of Kilos Kapayapaan said their organization and other peace networks commit to pursue and engage the peace processes, even beyond peace agreements.
The military estimates that about 200 armed rebels are still operating in Negros Occidental, from its peak of about 1,500 at the height of the insurgency problem in the late 1980s.*GPB