By Dindo Matining
Three-term senator and current senatorial candidate Loren Legarda has called for the resumption of the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Legarda, a veteran of humanitarian and peace missions, stated that one of the important components of the peace talks is the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), a proposed joint agreement between the GRP and the NDFP, which contains “concrete and doable steps towards liberating the Filipino people from poverty, exploitation, and underdevelopment.”
“As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important for all of us to only have one objective in mind: to achieve lasting peace, end poverty, and pursue socio- economic programs that will benefit our people and help the country realize national recovery and development,” said Legarda, who previously helped the government panel for the peace talks with the NDFP.
“As an official who has maintained good working relations with the NDFP over the years, I have seen the sincerity of all sides to pursue a common objective and have witnessed their intense desire for peace and social justice. Resuming the peace talks and continuing the discussions on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), the very heart and soul of the peace negotiations, will help us find a common ground to help achieve our goal,” she added.
The NDFP’s proposed CASER contains provisions on various socio-economic concerns—agrarian reform and rural development; national industrialization and economic development; environmental protection, rehabilitation and compensation; rights of the working people; promoting patriotic, progressive, and pro-people culture; recognition of ancestral lands and territories of national minorities; and ensuring economic sovereignty for national development through foreign economic and trade relations, financial, monetary and fiscal policies, and social and economic planning.
As Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance, Legarda ensured that the national budget supported the said socio-economic reform agenda—providing subsidies for free public tertiary education and additional funding for state universities and colleges; free health care services in government hospitals; free irrigation services for small farmers; more budget for social welfare programs; and increased funding to support rural livelihoods and micro, small, and medium enterprises.
Legarda also authored laws on environmental protection, promoting stricter enforcement of such laws.
Legarda, a peace advocate, successfully facilitated the safe releases of the late General Victor Obillo, then Captain Eduardo Montealto, then Sergeant Alpio Lozada, then Major Roberto Bernal, and then Army Major Noel Buan, who were held captive by rebel groups.
“We have the same goal of addressing issues affecting Filipinos such as poverty, landlessness, lack of employment and livelihood opportunities, underemployment, lackof access to
housing services, affordable health care, education and other social services, corruption, environmental degradation, among many others,” the senatorial aspirant pointed out.
“We may have different views on how to pursue national development, but I believe we can find a common ground. Stalling the negotiations can only lead to delayed pandemic recovery and continued suffering for millions of Filipinos who were greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Legarda affirmed, saying she is optimistic that both sides will hear her call.