A Catholic bishop in the central Philippines has called for renewed talks between the government and communist rebels following the killing of a human rights lawyer in Negros Oriental province.
In a pastoral letter, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos said that while there have been attempts to arrive at a peace deal, "both sides have to return to the negotiating table."
The prelate called for an end to the killings after gunmen shot and killed lawyer Anthony Trinidad, 53, in Dumaguete City on July 23. The lawyer's wife was hurt in the shooting.
An initial police investigation revealed that Trinidad's was among the names on a hit list of a group that calls itself the Movement Against Communists in Guihulngan.
He had also been receiving death threats due to cases he was handling, some of which involved political prisoners in the region.
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"This only proves that the perceived dangers of being arbitrarily, maliciously and baselessly red-tagged
[branded communist] are neither imaginary nor contrived, but constitute real threats to life, liberty and security," said lawyer Ephraim Cortez, secretary-general of the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL).
Cortez said Trinidad’s killing was "a manifestation of the culture of impunity" that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has allegedly been perpetuating.
"End the killings is the collective cry among us here living on Negros Island," read Bishop Alminaza's pastoral letter dated July 24.
Trinidad’s killing happened in the same week that four police officers were killed after being allegedly set up and ambushed by the communist New People's Army.
"The fear and violence must end," said the prelate, adding that people "are longing for an end to barbaric killings due to the drug war
and the anti-insurgency campaign."
Aside from the call to end the killings, the prelate said only the resumption of peace talks between the government and the communists can ensure the end to the violence.
"We reiterate the call for integral peace, one that addresses social injustice and promotes economic equality and inclusive development for all," said Bishop Alminaza.
Trinidad’s death added to the death toll of at least 40 judges, prosecutors, and lawyers since Duterte took office in 2016.