INSTEAD of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) pushing the local government units (LGUs) to pursue a militarist line on armed insurgency problem like prodding them to declare the CPP-NPA as “persona non grata” and ask for increase deployment of state armed troops, the option of declaring a local government jurisdiction as a peace zone would be a more enhancing environment towards instituting good local governance, and eventually achieving a more just and lasting peace.
The former will only sharpen armed conflict and bloodshed; the latter will ease it and allow other aspects of political, economic and cultural life to continue and even flourish. This is experiential not theoretical.
The late Bacolod Archdiocesan Bishop Antonio Fortich in the midst of bloody war in the early 80s, called for the formation of peace zones especially in the area of Chicks (Candoni, Hinobaan, Cauayan, Kabankalan, and Sipalay) to prevent more bloodshed and economic destruction.
Fortich’s peace zone concept called for the demilitarization of Chicks which means no armed units from both sides could enter the defined area, no checkpoints and encampments, so people can continue with their social and economic life without fear, and the state governance functions could be carried out without interruption.
But this peace zone was only a part of his much comprehensive formula, of all citizens working for a lasting peace based on social justice.
It means that the peace zone is only an enabling condition to freely allow the local government and the citizens work collectively on good governance, and slowly eradicate poverty and hunger, and realize the inclusive development of the area.
Although there were some successes in some barangays due to the pressures of the people and local churches and the respect extended by some armed units of the CPP-NPA, Fortich peace zone was never materialized in a large scale, town or city or district level, because it lacked the support of the LGUs, while the military continued their search and destroy operations. In short it came at a time when the fascist terror reigned the entire island and archipelago.
I was informed that Davao City under then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte had some kind of modus vivendi with the CPP-NPA on some sort of peace zone. His was not persona non grata tagging, demilitarization nor surrender of the armed insurgents, but allowing the CPP-NPA forces and their sympathizers to be in the city anytime without fear of arrest or harassment, provided they don’t carry firearms or restrain from any temptation of armed confrontation or even arms confiscation.
Today, more than ever, establishment of peace zone in as many areas possible, not only in rural but urban areas as well, including Bacolod City, demand some urgency and broad support.
I would push for a model which combine the Fortich formula and the Davao City experience (if there’s any truth to it at all); I call this model “peace zone plus” or demilitarization and good governance.
Under the baton of the DILG and the local chief executives (LCEs), the “peace zone plus” would push for the demilitarization of the city or town with priority in those affected by intense armed conflicts, disbandment of checkpoints and military encampments, no armed operations from both sides in the defined area, stoppage of all forms of psywar and black propaganda from both sides except issuance of statements on valid issues.
As soon as these are done, the DILG will closely guide the LGUs in instituting all components of good governance, starting with the removal of corrupt Local chief executives (LCEs) and officials including corrupt and abusive police and the military, reorganization towards effective functionality of Local Development Council (LDC) and Local Special Bodies (LSBs), capacitating LGU officials and LDC members in development road mapping and budgeting in the model of Bottom’s Up Budgeting (BUB); citizens participation in all aspects governance, regardless of ideological alignment.
Once there is significant advancement in the institutionalization of good governance, the local government could proceed towards the democratization of land and wealth in its scope of area; legislation of support for the rural and urban development including infrastructures, employment general and social housing; intensification of social services; run after and prosecute abusive and exploitative businesses; adequate provisions for strengthening social security of the people, respect for human rights, and many others.
The DILG and LGUs could also put up mechanisms that would encourage the free exchange of ideologies, culture and traditions in the spirit unity in diversity.
If these are all done right, well and good, the peace zone plus could effectively transform a place or community into one where people live in peace, prosperity with dignity, and harmony with nature.
Again this is easier drawn than done. And I know there could be other models, perhaps much better and doable.
But the bottomline of peace zone plus is to veer away from flagging local government officials from the old rehashed model of militarism and McCarthyism in governance and re-engineer governance that is inclusive, non-militarist, participatory, respectful and co-existent with different ideologies, and sustainable.
If the provincial government is not ready to begin with this experiment, I would dare Bacolod City officials to show the way, to pursue its area as a peace zone plus city. It’s just a matter of political will and legislative decision.
Who can stop a city or a town from modelling a non-militarist approach to good local governance? Who can stop a city or a town from modelling something that could only bring unity in diversity, prosperity with dignity, and just peace (not peace of graveyard)?
Only the confused souls and insecure minds will dance to the beat of the war drums.