An ecumenical church group in the Philippines has renewed calls for the resumption of peace negotiations with communists following the arrest of several rebel peace consultants in recent weeks. Church leaders from various denominations and diverse Christian traditions said the talks are still the "most viable option to attaining a just and enduring peace." Talks broke down in July 2017 after the government accused rebels of continuing attacks on government forces. The church leaders cited a survey by pollster Pulse Asia early this year that found 74 percent of Filipinos had been following the talks. Of them, nearly 80 percent believe that peace talks can end the hostilities between the warring forces. "The situation has taken a turn for the worse," the church leaders said in a statement from the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) released to the media on Nov. 21. Several peace consultants of the rebel National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have been arrested in recent weeks. On Nov. 8, the authorities arrested Vicente Ladlad
, an NDFP consultant in the peace talks with the government, accusing him of illegal possession of firearms. Earlier, Philippine authorities arrested peace consultants Rafael Baylosis
and Adelberto Silva
also for "illegal possession of firearms and explosives." The church leaders noted that there were also significant increases in armed encounters between the Philippine military and New People's Army guerrillas. "We are very much concerned and alarmed by these reports because of our conviction that respect for human rights and human dignity is a basic condition of peace," read the church leaders' statement signed by Catholic Archbishop Antonio Ledesma
and Protestant Bishop Rex Reyes, joint chairmen of PEPP. The prelates noted that there was a "bright prospect" when the formal peace talks resumed in earnest in 2016 until 2017. "We are thus saddened that the cancellation of the formal peace talks has aborted the signing of an interim peace agreement," read the church leaders' statement, adding that the peace deal would have addressed the "root causes of the armed conflict."