The peace talks must continue.
This is a call over 100 top clergy and lay Church leaders made at the conclusion of the 6th Ecumenical Church Leaders Summit on Peace held August 8-10 in Tagaytay City, Cavite.
The summit, attended by 130 leaders from across the nation, was convoked by the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), a network of Christian advocates for genuine and lasting peace. They came from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum (EBF), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP),  Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) and the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP).
“The church leaders expressed sadness at the recent developments in the negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) that are now suspended indefinitely,” noted the statement, “Peace is Possible.” It was signed by PEPP co-chairs Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma and NCCP General Secretary Rex RB Reyes Jr., among others.
The summit participants expressed “grave concern” over the President’s declaration of all-out war and the New People’s Army response of aggressive attacks against state forces.
“Violence is intensifying and spilling over into communities throughout the Philippines. Stories from the regions validated this fact,” they said. “In the crossfire, innocent civilians are victims, especially from indigenous peoples’ communities.
The summit was troubled that the gains of the past four formal talks and numerous back-channel negotiations — from steps forward in the Comprehensive Agreement on Social Economic Reforms (CASER) to a bilateral ceasefire and the reinstituting of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) — would go to waste with the present atmosphere.
In line with this, they want the government and the NDFP to resume the peace talks and work for the immediate approval of a CASER, which analysts note would be the “heart and soul” of the peace process.
The summit pooled key personalities to explain the situation of the peace talks. Speakers included Rep. Ruby Sahali of the lone district of Tawi-Tawi, chair of the House Special Committee on Peace, Unity and Reconciliation; former Rep. Satur Ocampo, Independent Incorporator and Lou Baylosis of the NDFP; and Emma Leslie, Executive Director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies in Cambodia.
The summit was also rich in testimonials from Mindanao. Darling Morales narrated the travails of being wife to Iglesia Filipina Independiente Ozamiz Bishop Carlo Morales, detained on charges of illegal possession of explosives, which he has denied. Lumad kids and educators from the schools that the President threatened to close provided cultural presentations and updates. Maguindanaoan Datu Jerome Succor and Marawi evacuee Asliah Ampuan articulated calls to stop aerial bombings and lift martial law.
The call to resume the peace talks is only one of four recommendations the summit participants defined “after three days of reflection and discernment.”
Among others, they want the release of Bishop Morales and political prisoners from the government side, as well as “prisoners of war” from the NDFP.
They also desire for more comprehensive measures to address the issues hounding indigenous peoples’ communities.
The Summit marked September 21, the International Day of Peace, as an opportunity to engage more people in ecumenical discussions on the peace process.
The participants expressed hopes for a turnaround: “We will help transform this crisis into an opportunity for us to work together. Our hope for a just and enduring peace remains as there is no formal termination yet of the peace negotiations.”
Sgd.                                                                         Sgd.
Archbishop ANTONIO J. LEDESMA, DD                                            REV. FR. REX RB. REYES JR.
Co-chairperson, PEPP                                                         Co-chairperson, PEPP
Mobile #  09177110563                                                        Mobile # 09175403749
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BISHOP DEOGRACIAS S. INIGUEZ, JR., D.D.                                     BISHOP NOEL A, PANTOJA
Co-chair, EBF, PEPP Head of the Secretariat                                 National President, PCEC
Mobile # 09175222744

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