To His Excellency Fidel V. Ramos, President of the Republic of the Philippines,

the members of the GRP and MNLF Panels

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) gathered for its 73rd Plenary Assembly in Tagaytay City on July 8, 1996:

Your Excellencies:

Greetings in the name of the God of Love,

Justice, Peace, Mercy and Compassion!

1. We thank you for the patient and heroic efforts that you have expended through the years to establish a lasting peace in southern Philippines. You have reached a point where peace which has eluded us so painfully and for so long now seems so tantalizingly close. We wish to make our contribution towards that lasting peace we all seek, as it is our duty to do so.

2. In a democratic country such as ours, public officials should work for the common good which is usually known by consulting those who are affected by their decision. For this reason, we respectfully but firmly voice out to you in a positive and hopeful manner what has been sadly lacking so far in the dialogue toward peace, namely, the voice of Catholic Christians in southern Philippines.

3. Our purpose is to lend a positive hand to the peace process and to help hold back the increasing discordant chorus of protest and threats that have met the agreements that you have made.

4. For us, the agreements between the GRP and the MNLF are both a source of crisis and hope. Hope, because the concept of a Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) is, indeed, a breakthrough in the peace negotiations. Crisis, because not all the specifics are known to us, and, of those we know, some are definitely unacceptable in view of their evident intent or ambiguity.

5. It is to some of these critical specifics that we wish to make our contributions to the dialogue for peace. By this we mean to elaborate on the principles stated by the Mindanao Peace Congress of Catholic Church leaders held on June 24, 1996. The congress participants saw a ray of hope in the SPCPD as long as the following principles were followed: peace as not only the absence of war but the wholeness of life; peace as a regime of justice and freedom, including religious freedom; peace as integral development; peace as dialogical rather than conflictive; peace as the result of adequate information, transparency and participation.

6. In view of the above, we wish to make a positive contribution to the peace process by addressing some of the specifics regarding the SPCPD that have come to our knowledge.

a. On the premise that the SPCPD would deal only with peace and development and that existing government units would remain in place, the powers and functions delegated by the President of the Philippines to the SPCPD should only be concerned with matters of peace and development. SPCPD must not be a political administrative entity and must not have the power to create offices and instrumentalities that compete politically with existing government structures. It should not have any role, except subordinate and auxiliary, regarding elections, referenda, plebiscites and the like. Other consensus points emanating from the 8th GRP-MNLF committee meeting of June 21-23, 1996, that are related to this must be clarified, and if necessary, revised, in the light of this role and function of the SPCPD.

b. On the premise that SPCPD is a council that deals with 14 provinces and 10 cities of southern Philippines, the ratio of MNLF members to non-MNLF members must be revised so as to respect the present existential composition of the population of southern Philippines.

c. On the premise that the SPCPD is a government entity, it should respect Constitutional provisions on the separation of Church and State. Hence, if there is to be any religious advisory body to be set up, it should be outside the formal government structure.

d. On the premise that the existential situation of southern Philippines reflects religious pluralism, religious freedom must be respected at all times. Especially should this be observed in the educational system. Education should promote values of our common humanity and not the values peculiar to any set of religious beliefs, be it Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist or Islamic. Thus what we have come to learn about the proposed system of education in the 1995 interim agreement should be revised in order to reflect this fundamental human right to religious freedom.

e. On the premise that a plebiscite will be conducted on the regional autonomy after a period of time, we urge that no politics and structures or security system be set up that would effectively prevent the free expression of the people’s will.

7. Your Excellencies, glaringly lacking in the peace process so far has been the participation of people. They have not been informed not consulted on the major aspects of the agreements that have been made. Ultimately, the people bear the burden of sustaining any peace that is established. It is not possible for the people to carry a burden that they believe in their hearts has been simply imposed on them. Therefore, we urge you to provide time for informing and consulting the people of all faiths regarding the specifics of the peace talks. Any peace pact that is established in a conflict ridden area is necessarily fragile, but even more so when such peace is not the product of consensus involving the participation of all. Deadlines for peace negotiations are necessary for work to be done. But we urge you most respectfully to defer the finality of consensus points until the people are in some way consulted.

The seeds of peace take some time to grow and the time for true peace to flourish depends ultimately on the will of God, with us cooperating with such divine will.

8. For this reason, we offer you our services in informing and consulting the people and relaying their hopes and aspirations to you so as to improve the peace process and its consensus points.

9. Most of all, please know that we are directing all the members of our faith to dedicate the first Friday of August this year as a day of prayer and fasting, offered to the Lord, to assist your peace efforts. We shall also continue the many areas of dialogue already well underway in Mindanao so that mutual prejudices may be removed.

The journey to peace is the journey of people of different faiths, people who pray to the same almighty God, who for the sake of peace creates in our hearts the attitudes of mutual respect and trust and love for justice, truth and freedom, which are the pillars of a house of peace. To Him we pray so that your efforts for peace will be truly fruitful for all the people of southern Philippines.