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Philippine bishops appeal for renewed talks

Ecumenical group call on Duterte to show resolve as negotiation is the 'only way' to end deadly conflict

Philippine bishops appeal for renewed talks

Peace activists gather outside a Catholic church in Manila to call for the resumption of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and communist rebels. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

 

Joe Torres, Manila
Philippines

February 17, 2017

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Bishops from various religious denominations in the Philippines issued an appeal on Feb. 17 for the government and communist rebels to return to the negotiating table to end almost five decades of conflict.

President Rodrigo Duterte called off peace talks following clashes between government soldiers and rebel fighters while a ceasefire was in effect. The military and the rebels accused each other of violating their respective truces.

The bishops, however, said the peace talks, which had reached a third round of formal negotiations, had been "productive and positive" as both parties "persevered in prioritizing the substantive agenda and setting the peace process on track."

"We would want to acknowledge the efforts of President Duterte in seeking to pave the way for peace," read a statement from the Ecumenical Bishops' Forum, an organization of Catholic and Protestant prelates.

The church leaders said they have been praying for the president to "display resolve and be able to persuade his government, particularly the security sector, to build a road toward a just and lasting peace."

"We appeal to President Duterte to see that addressing the roots of the armed conflict through the peace talks is still a viable way to proceed," said the bishops' statement signed by Catholic bishop Deogracias Iniguez, Protestant bishop Elmer Bolocon, and Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Philippine Independent Church.

"Even if he has felt that he has walked far, we invite him to walk with us yet further still on a principled path of peace-building," said the prelates, adding that to allow the "war-mongers to win the day is to allow the perpetuation of the status quo."

The prelates said the peace talks are a "sensible option" to overcoming the obstacles to peace, which "can be engaged with or without ceasefires," adding that it "will address the historic and root causes of the armed conflict."

"We offer our hand in walking the next mile toward peace. We can overcome the rumblings of war and support both parties as they negotiate any obstacle at the table of peace talks," said the bishops. 

Various peace and human rights groups gathered in Manila Feb. 17 to press their call for the continuation of talks. The groups assailed the "all-out war" being waged by the military after Duterte's termination of the talks. 

"The all-out war being is doomed to fail like the others launched by past governments," said Renato Reyes, secretary-general of activist group New Patriotic Alliance.

"The militarist approach only fuels fiercer resistance," he added.

Reyes said serious peace negotiations on socio-economic, political and constitutional reforms have a better chance of ending the armed conflict than waging all-out war that the people will resist.

Government chief peace negotiator Silvestre Bello, meanwhile, said both the government and the rebels should work on how to go back to the negotiating table.

"It is uncalled for to know that Filipinos against fellow Filipinos kill each other," said Bello, adding that what has been attained in the last three rounds of talks in the Netherlands and in Italy might just be wasted.

Formal negotiations between the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines opened in Norway in August 2016 after years of suspension.

The country's communist insurgency started in the 1960s and is considered to be one of the longest in the world and is estimated to have already claimed as many as 40,000 lives.

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