MEDINA, MISAMIS ORIENTAL – The people must ‘own’ the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)to ensure its success as formal talks resume next month in Rome, Italy, a religious leader said.

Primary stakeholders such as the members of the communities affected by the conflict between state forces and Maoist guerrillas should participate and have a say in the peace process, said Bishop Felixberto Calang, of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and official of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP).

“For lasting peace to be attained in Mindanao, it is important that people have the ownership to the peace talks, not just the NDF and the government,” Calang said at the sidelines of the Communist Party of the Philippines-North Central Mindanao Region’s celebration of the Party’s 48th founding anniversary held in a rural village somewhere in Misamis Oriental on Monday.

Calang said both parties must get the communities involved in the process so they can have a deeper understanding of the situation.

Inviting the people to roundtable gatherings and engage them in discussions pertaining to the peace talks will also help them know the real score of the peace negotiations, he added.

“That’s why the people must own the peace talks so they can push it further. If along the way there are some setbacks, the people can continue to urge the government and the NDFP to continue with the talks until peace is finally achieved,” Calang said.

Alfredo “Ka Paris” Mapano, NDF peace consultant, said the NPA is standing by its commitment to a temporary cessation of hostilities despite reports that some members of the state forces have continued to commit human rights violations even though both sides have declared unilateral ceasefire.

To this, Calang said he is hoping the Maoist guerrillas will abide by the unilateral ceasefire in the wake of these violations.

“Even their supporters want the NPA to take actions on these violations, but they are standing down for the sake of the peace talks,” Calang said.

He said the Maoist guerrillas’ refusal to deal with the alleged abuses is a clear sign that they are sincere in maintaining the peace talks.

“The challenge of the government now is to restrain its state forces from committing these reported human rights violations, to conduct an investigation and to punish the violators. If the NDF is sincere in the peace negotiations, the government must also show its sincerity,” he added.