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Philippine govt to reopen talks with communist rebels

Church leaders express hope resumed negotiations will result in long-term solution to conflict

Philippine govt to reopen talks with communist rebels

Armed communist rebels stand to attention at an undisclosed location during a celebration to mark the group's founding in this December 2017 photo. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

Joe Torres, Manila
Philippines

April 10, 2018

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Peace negotiators in the Philippines have up to two months to reopen talks between the government and communist rebels to put an end to almost five decades of insurgency war in the country.

President Rodrigo Duterte last week said he is giving the government and rebel peace panels "a timeline of two months" to resume the talks that bogged down last year.

The president claimed that it was the rebel National Democratic Front of the Philippines that had been pressing for the resumption of negotiations.

The talks broke down in November after Duterte accused the rebels of attacking government installations especially in the provinces.

In February, he declared the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army, terrorist organizations. 

He also sought to label about 600 activists, including rebel consultants to the peace negotiations, as terrorists.

Jose Maria Sison, the exiled founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, welcomed Duterte's statement, saying that the rebels are open and ready to resume negotiations.

"We are sincere in striving to negotiate and forge with the [government] comprehensive agreements on social, economic and political reforms to address the roots of the armed conflict," said Sison.

Duterte said he would allow Sison and other rebel negotiators to return home "during the truce period."

"And if we fail, then I will be happy to send you off to the airport. But do not ever, ever come again, because the next time, I will personally shoot you," said the president.

 

Church leaders express support for talks

The country's church leaders immediately expressed their support for the new opportunity to talk peace.

In a statement, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform expressed hope that "the atmosphere for the resumption of the stalled talks will continue to spread positively."

The organization of Catholic and Protestant bishops has repeatedly championed what they described as "principled dialogue across the negotiating table" to resolve the conflict.

"It's very good that they resume the talks. With peace, there is development," said Archbishop Martin Jumoad of the Archdiocese of Ozamiz.

Bishop Edwin Dela Pena of Marawi said, "dialogue is the way to solve the country's problems."

The Protestant National Council of Churches in the Philippines expressed hope that renewed talks would have a different outcome.

"We pray that the peace negotiations resume and that the peace process will draw to a successful end," said Reverend Rex Reyes, secretary-general of the council.

"We are almost there. Enough killing and strife. There is by far no better alternative to peace talks," he said.

He appealed to the president to withdraw the terrorist label on at least 600 individuals, saying that the list is a "potential threat to human rights defenders and peace advocates."

"Labeling peace advocates as terrorists leaves them vulnerable," said Reyes.

The list includes Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, tribal rights activists Beverly Longid and Windel Bolinget, and about 20 tribal leaders from Mindanao.

During his election campaign in 2016, Duterte vowed to end the nearly 50-year Maoist rebellion that has killed about 40,000 people.

The communist insurgency has been dubbed as Asia's longest running armed struggle.

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