Communist rebels in Mindanao stand to attention during a ceremony in this file photo. (Photo by Keith Bacongco)
Church leaders today warned that the arrest of alleged top leaders of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines will prolong an impasse on peace talks.
"(The peace talks) might even completely stop," said Bishop Efraim Tendero of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches. "The arrests will surely prolong the impasse."
Philippines security forces arrested Benito Tiamzon, believed to be chairman of the Communist Party and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, and his wife, Wilma Austria-Tiamzon, thought to be the party’s secretary-general, on March 22 in Cebu province.
Teresita Quintos Deles, the government's peace adviser, was unable to voice optimism over the arrests at a press briefing today.
"Certainly it does not look good that this process, which has been going on for far longer ... has delivered so little in terms of milestones in the peace process and has delivered nothing in terms of improving the lives of people on the ground," she said.
However, Deles stressed that the government "would like peace talks to resume on the basis of a clear, doable and time-bound agenda."
In a statement released on Sunday, the rebels described the arrest as an "outright" violation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees signed by the rebels and government.
Bishop Deogracias Iniguez of Kalookan told ucanews.com that there is a need to revisit the methods used by the government and rebels in their peace negotiations.
"The impasse we are witnessing now shows the seriousness of the issues we have to look into more closely before we can achieve real peace in our country," the bishop said.
"They also need to evaluate their negotiating methods in achieving peace," Iniguez said.
Church leaders have played crucial roles in the peace process since talks to end the 45-year old armed conflict began in 1986, often acting as facilitators.
Last year, a religious leaders’ summit in Mindanao issued an appeal to the government and rebels to "please continue the peace negotiations."
Bishop Antonio Ablon of the Philippine Independent Church said there is a need for the talks to continue as the "civil war" has taken its toll on the people and prevented the countryside from developing.