Religious leaders urge gov't, NDF: Seek peace and pursue it

MANILA, Philippines – Following the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria "Joma" Sison's abandonment of peace talks, a group of religious leaders urged both government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) to continue working for peace.

In a statement on Friday, June 29, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) implored both parties to "seek peace and pursue it," citing a verse from the Bible, 1 Peter 3:11. The group also encouraged them to "open the doors to dialogue."

This comes after Sison said on June 28 that the NDF "can no longer negotiate" with the Duterte administration, following what he called a "current impasse" in the talks. NDF is the political arm of CPP. 

President Rodrigo Duterte later brushed off Sison's pronouncement, and said the government's operations against New People's Army – CPP's armed wing – would continue.

"We pray that the exchange of verbal tirades between both parties would not result to a possible termination of the peace negotiations. Such termination would surely lead to the escalation of violence especially in the countryside," the PEPP said.

The PEPP also called on Filipinos to "continue praying and working for peace in our land," and appealed to Norway – the facilitator of the Philippines-NDF peace talks – to "continue helping the Filipino people in convincing the government and the NDF to resume the formal peace talks."

The group reiterated its hope for the signing of an interim peace agreement between the two parties.

"Moreover, there are other agreements made in the previous rounds of talks that could have been historical building blocks for a just and enduring peace," they said.

The interim peace agreement and a "stand down" ceasefire "could have lessened the casualties in the armed conflict," added the PEPP. "Incidents like the bloody 'misencounter' in Samar between the troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) could have been prevented."

The PEPP said the peace negotiations between the government and the NDF "is not for the two parties alone but for all of us and future generations." 

The PEPP is co-chaired by Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, and Father Rex Reyes Jr of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.

The group includes prominent religious figures such as Sister Mary John Mananzan, Bishop Noel Pantoja of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, and Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez of the Ecumenical Bishops' Forum.

Sison's latest statement on the peace talks came just two weeks after the Duterte government announced that the peace talks would push through.

It was supposed to resume on June 28, but the military asked for at least 3 more months  before the resumption of the talks, and the President agreed. – Michael Bueza/Rappler.com