Philippine churches fear conflict will escalate

Ecumenical group fears over failure of rebels and government security forces to engage in peace talks
Philippine churches fear conflict will escalate

New People's Army rebels mark the founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines. (Photo by Jigger J. Jerusalem)

Failure of the government and communist rebels in the Philippines to enter into peace talks risks an escalation of violence and rights' abuses, an ecumenical group of churches has warned.

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) expressed concern over President Rodrigo Duterte last month directing the military to "destroy" the communist-led New People's Army (NPA).

The ecumenical group of leaders of the nation's five mainstream churches called for "principled dialogue".

The church leaders also expressed support for a resolution filed in the Lower House of Congress urging Duterte to resume peace negotiations with the rebel leftist National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Government and rebel peace negotiators were on their fifth round of talks in 2017 when Duterte ordered its termination after he accused rebels of launching attacks against state forces.

This week, exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison said the NDFP, where he serves as a political consultant, would further "strengthen itself" against government forces.

He said the rebel group would cooperate with allies to isolate and oust the Duterte regime.

Sison added that this would include intensified offensives as a socio-economic and political crisis in the Philippines worsened in 2019.

The Philippine military, however, said it would support the Duterte administration's 'National Task Force to End Communist Insurgency' efforts to achieve a complete victory by building community resilience and securing the co-operation of all government agencies.

Church leaders, however, complained that recent developments could derail efforts to re-start peace negotiations.

The PEPP is composed of leaders of the Catholic bishop's conference, the Protestant National Council of Churches, the Association of Major Religious Superiors, the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches and the Ecumenical Bishops' Forum.

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