Philippine churches urged to spur peace efforts with rebels

Archbishop Antonio Ledesma rejects govt proposal to hold local peace negotiations
Philippine churches urged to spur peace efforts with rebels

Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro joins other Philippine religious leaders in ringing bells in a symbolic gesture to call for peace during a peace forum in Manila on Sept. 12. The church leaders called on the government to resume peace negotiations with communist rebels and to stop an "all-out war" against insurgents demanded by President Rodrigo Duterte. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

A prelate from the southern Philippines has called on churches and religious groups to host "local peace conversations" among stakeholders to advance peace efforts with communist rebels and avert an escalation in violence.

Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oromade made the call in the wake of President Rodrigo Duterte's renewed call on Sept. 10 to launch an "all-out war" against communist rebels.

The archbishop warned that imposing state-drafted "development goals" without consulting grassroots communities will only worsen conflict in the Philippines' rural areas.

Bishop Ledesma called on the government and the rebels to resume peace negotiations during a peace forum in Manila on Sept. 12.

The bishop who heads the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform slammed the government’s practice of branding people communist rebels, saying it heralds killings.

Bishop Ledesma cited a series of killings of activists and government critics in the central Philippine island of Negros in recent months.

He said peace talks must remain at the national level, rejecting a government proposal to hold local peace negotiations.

"Local peace conversations, yes, but these should not replace national peace talks," the prelate told ucanews.com after the forum.

He said, "peace conversations should support national peace talks," adding that there is a need for third-party negotiators and a neutral venue for negotiations.

President Duterte earlier insisted that exiled communist leaders return home for the talks, a move the rebels described as "suicide."

Bishop Ledesma said a "national framework" is needed for a cohesive resolution to long-festering socio-economic woes in the country, citing land issues as a major factor in the rise of the Philippines’ communist insurgency.

The prelate lamented that Duterte scrapped peace talks just as negotiators hammered out a landmark agrarian reform agreement featuring free land distribution.

Negotiators had completed a draft agreement on agrarian reform and another landmark document on a bilateral ceasefire framework when Duterte pulled out of the talks in 2017.

He formally announced the end of peace talks in July 2018 despite his negotiators’ efforts at backdoor talks.

Bishop Ledesma noted that many of the killings in Negros in recent months stemmed from harsh reprisals against an upsurge in militancy among agricultural workers who have become impatient over land distribution.

"I can understand that they see the need for more radical means," said the bishop. He said only national peace talks and a final peace deal can end agrarian unrest.

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