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Philippine religious leaders welcome progress in peace talks

For any accord to last it must be based on justice and meaningful change, says Archbishop Antonio Ledesma

Philippine religious leaders welcome progress in peace talks

Philippine government and rebel negotiators look over documents during the ongoing peace talks in Oslo, Norway, that aim to end almost five decades of conflict. (Photo by Edwin Espejo)

Joe Torres, Manila
Philippines

October 11, 2016

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Religious leaders in the Philippines welcomed the progress of ongoing peace negotiations between the government and communist rebels being held in Oslo, Norway, this week.

Discussion of the root causes of the armed conflict "is something for which our nation and our people have been yearning for decades," said Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro.

The prelate, who heads the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, said an agreement on a framework for a comprehensive deal on social and economic reforms "is impressive."

"We are looking forward to the public consultations that will begin to further fill out what these reforms will be in detail," said Archbishop Ledesma.

Government and rebel peace negotiators, from the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), agreed on Oct. 9 on common frameworks of the agenda that will comprise a final peace agreement to end almost five decades of war in the country.

The Communist Party of the Philippines launched a rebellion in 1968 that has so far claimed the lives of 30,000 people, according to government estimates.

 

Release of political prisoners

Prior to the meeting, the NDFP urged President Rodrigo Duterte's administration not to make the release of political prisoners an outcome of a final peace deal.

"Anchoring an amnesty proclamation to a final peace agreement would make the more than 400 detained political prisoners ... as virtual hostages to the peace talks," read the NDFP statement.

Father Rex Reyes Jr., general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, said the commitment to grant amnesty to political prisoners "is a very important confidence boosting measure."

"[The release of prisoners] prepares the ground for even more progress to be made on reaching common understanding between the two sides," said Father Reyes, co-chairman of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform.

 

Commendable efforts

Government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello, however, said the efforts of both parties to work for a deal are commendable.

"It was a roller-coaster ride but in the end, both parties reached their desired destination," said Bello.

In a joint statement on Oct. 9, both the government and the rebel negotiators vowed that even before a negotiated political settlement is reached, Filipinos might enjoy the benefits of "peace dividends."

"Reforms may already be implemented as a result of agreements on topics such as agrarian reform and national industrialization," said Bello.

Government peace panel spokesman Hernani Braganza said the government is committed to signing a peace agreement within a year.

"I hope our counterparts [in the rebel panel] share the same goal," he said.

During the resumption of formal peace negotiations last week, the parties signed an agreement binding their working groups to complete work within a period of six months.

 

Not without difficulties

Father Reyes said the ongoing talks would not be easy, especially with the need for both sides to meet the Oct. 27 target date for the signing of an interim bilateral ceasefire.

The Protestant church leader said the will of both sides to ensure that the ceasefire is strictly enforced "is very important."

Rebel negotiators on Oct. 10 dubbed as "foul and erroneous" a statement released by the government panel that the talks "hit a snag" because the rebels refused to include nine major "outcomes" that the government wanted to include in the agreement.

The outcomes include poverty eradication, environment and climate change, globally competitive economy, adequate and quality social services, reduced inequalities, peaceful rural communities, food security, living incomes, and gender equality and representation.

The rebel group, however, said these issues were mere enumerations of issues that were already included in the rebel group's "long well-prepared lengthy outline" of proposals.

Archbishop Ledesma said that with the two sides "in such a long and protracted war are now actually discussing the root causes of the armed conflict, are serious about a ceasefire agreement" is progress.

"Peace is the hope of all people, but we are aware that peace is not simply the silence of the guns, but must be based on justice and meaningful change for the majority of our people who suffer in poverty," he said.

"If this kind of peace is not established, and the hunger and suffering of the majority continues, no matter how much talking happens, the violence of the past will resurface again," warned Archbishop Ledesma.

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