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Solidarity Message from Ms. Elisabeth Slattum

Dear friends

First of all, I wish I was there in Davao with all of you. Unfortunately, the circumstances have prevented me from taking part. This is why I wanted to share this solidarity message with all of you through the distinguishe Archbishop Ledesma. 

The picture of the world today is a bleak one. After years of steady decrease in armed conflict and battle deaths, we have seen a reversal these last years. Thousands of deaths, millions of displaced people, no solutions in sight. As I said, the world is looking bleak.

And this is why the peace agreement that was reached in Colombia and the unprecedented resumption of talks between the Philippine government and the NDFP last August are so important. They show that dialogue can work. And it does. Of all conflicts that ended in the last 30 years, only 10% ended through a military victory. The vast majority of conflicts in the last decades have been solved thanks to negotiations and dialogue.

It doesn’t always work. It often takes many failed attempts before it succeeds. Many factors need to be in place. The question of timing and ripeness is crucial. But I believe the time is ripe - now. I believe many, or even most, of the factors that are needed for a peace process to come to a close are present. There is determination and commitment. There is personal involvement from the highest level – the President. There are experienced and knowledgeable negotiators on both sides. There is a willingness to take risks, and to compromise in the search for common ground.

This is a historic opportunity for the Philippines and the peace process with the NDFP. The moment has to be seized with both hands

In addition to the elements above, the parties have taken unparalleled trust-building steps toward each other.  In August, I was so lucky as to be witness to the reunion of old friends and komrads, and the presence of the released detainees created a feeling of history in the making. I believe they can contribute greatly to the talks. During the resumption in Oslo, in the midst of laughter and jokes, both sides conducted the meetings with great dignity and respect. What came out of those talks was unprecedented and unexpected.

It is a very promising start of a process that, I hope, will not stop before we reach an end to the conflict, a just and lasting peace, by addressing the root causes of the conflict.

But there are many challenges ahead, and we need to be prepared. Challenging issues are up for discussion, and the trust that has been built between the parties will be tried. More than once. Deadlines will not be met, the ceasefire will be violated, there will be critical voices trying to derail the talks, and external events will undoubtedly affect the table. A rough road is ahead of us and we need to buckle up.

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, the PEPP, and the churches have an important role to play in the time to come, and you are already doing it. Mobilizing support to the peace process, increasing knowledge about the peace process. Raising awareness on the costs of the conflict and on the gains of a peace agreement. The lives that will be spared, the wounds that will be healed, the improved quality of life that will come with development and economic opportunities.

Your knowledge of the causes and of the impact of the conflict is sorely needed. You are on the ground. You are in daily contact with those who suffer the most from this conflict. You know their needs, their concerns. So your input to the parties, to the peace process, is crucial.

And when the crises come, because they will, your role in encouraging the parties to keep talking will be critical.

Your unwavering support to the peace process is commendable and inspiring. In moments when nobody believed, you did. You always kept going. And I sincerely hope that your efforts will pay off this time. As third party facilitator, Norway will contribute as best we can to this peace process. But at the end of the day, it’s the parties, and it’s the Filipino people, who will have the last word.

This is your conflict, your country and your peace process.

I know that Norway is far away, and that at times you suffer from the geographical remoteness of the peace talks. Many would want to see the peace talks take place in the Philippines. I understand, I also think both parties would ideally prefer this, and it would make sense for a lot of reasons. But as in most other peace processes, they take place abroad. The reasons being partly to address security concerns, partly to protect the parties, protect the talks, from the pressure that always accompany peace negotiations, and from the distractions of external events. Besides, there is one particular advantage of doing the talks in Norway, especially in the winter. It is too cold to go outside, so the parties are forced to stay inside and focus exclusively on the talks!

But please know that the parties, every time they come, they bring the Philippines to Norway. Every round of talks, the Filipino community brings Filipino food, we even sing karaoke. They speak nonstop to the press to keep you informed. At the end of the day, everything the parties do, is for the Filipino people, for you.

And hopefully sometime soon, the parties will return to the Philippines. With a peace agreement in their pocket.

Good luck with the remainder of the 5th Ecumenical Church Leaders Peace Summit! I wish I was there.

Thank you.

All the best,

On behalf of the entire RNG team,

Elisabeth