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Philippine bishops urged to become brokers of peace

Labor groups want religious leaders to bring Duterte back to negotiations with communist rebels

Philippine bishops urged to become brokers of peace

Female guerrillas of the New People's Army stand to attention in a remote village in the southern Philippine province of Misamis Oriental in this file photo. (Photo: Froilan Gallardo)

Two Filipino labor groups have urged the Catholic bishops’ conference and other faith-based organizations to intervene in unofficial peace talks with communist rebels and encourage President Rodrigo Duterte back to the negotiation table.

Duterte broke off official talks in 2018 after both sides accused each other of launching attacks and the president has become increasingly hostile to the rebels since then.

However, the Federation of Free Workers and the Nagkakaisa Labor Coalition say that allowing bishops, imams and pastors to become involved in peace efforts could make ending the decades-long armed-conflict easier and avert what they said was an imminent and deadly threat.

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“We call on our faith leaders to remind our national leaders, the military, the police and the rebels, that peace based on social justice and the common good cannot be achieved through the barrel of a gun,” said Sonny Matula, chairman of the two labor organizations.

Matula, who also heads the Federation of Free Workers, the biggest labor coalition in the country, said the labor sector has been the “ultimate” victim in the war between government forces and the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

“We’ve received reports that the NPA is planning to revive its urban partisan hit squads … if this happens, it is inevitable that the Defense Department would counter this threat with force. There would be a cycle of violence that would eventually lead to the loss of many lives and livelihoods, especially among the poor,” Matula told UCA News.

Matula said that in order to avert this escalation religious leaders must intervene to appeal to both parties’ faith and sense of religiosity.

“The problem we anticipate with this kind of bullet-for-bullet and tit-for-tat scenario is that nobody will be a winner and many will probably become victims of violence, involving collateral damage on both sides. We need faith leaders to intervene to appeal to the conscience of both parties,” he added.

The labor groups said President Duterte’s “militarist regime” would otherwise take advantage of the situation to militarize the country further.

“It is highly probable that killings will see more repression and the further militarization of social conflicts that a militarist regime like President Duterte’s will enjoy taking advantage of,” the labor coalition said in a statement.

“Instead of keeping guns blazing, warring factions in society should hold genuine peace talks that seriously seek an end to armed conflicts on the basis of social justice.

“For these reasons, we call on the government, rebels, trade unions, the Church, religious and civil society groups to help prevent these killings and pull everyone back to the negotiating table for the resumption of official peace talks.”

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