Church leaders welcome peace development

RELIGIOUS leaders from the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (Pepp) and Sowing Seeds of Peace in Northern Mindanao were elated with the positive development on the back channel talks that concluded on Saturday at Utrecht, The Netherlands between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Despite the ongoing clashes on the ground between communist rebels and government soldiers, Presidential Peace Adviser Jess Dureza announced that the peace talks are set to resume.

In his Facebook post, Dureza said the previously-terminated unilateral ceasefire will be restored an reinstated, however it will only be made effective as soon as the respective forces of both sides, the national government and the Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic/New People’s Army (CPP-NDF-NPA) are duly informed.

But Dureza assured that this will be restored and will eventually be made into a bilateral ceasefire before the next round of talks in April 2017.

For the prelate, in its statement, it pointed out that peace is not merely the absence of war but the result of addressing the root causes of civil war- social inequality, poverty, marginalization, hegemony, among others.

The Pepp and Sowing Seeds, composed of bishops and priests, said they are looking forward for a fruitful discussion on socio-economic reforms agenda especially on the “century-old” problem of genuine land reform, national industry development, basic social services, and ecological protection.

Acting as local third party facilitator, the bishops are expecting the eventual safe release of Plice Officer 2 Anthony Natividad, a police captured by NPA rebels last February in Talakag, Bukidnon.

Pepp is composed of religious leaders such as Archbishop Antonio Ledesma and Iglesia Filipina Independiente bishop Felixberto Calang.

A multisectoral and Mindanao-wide gathering of peace advocates is set to commence in Davao City this March 14-15.

Co-chaired by Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, Pepp is the broades Christian faith-based network in the country supporting the peace talks.

Along with the restoration of ceasefire, Dureza also noted that the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig), which was also earlier terminated by President Rodrigo Duterte, will automatically be reinstated to enable NDF consultants and their staff who were in jail or constrained, to physically surface and join in the peace work.

“President Duterte himself closely monitored the efforts taken by negotiators while in Utrecht in the Netherlands in bringing about an early breakthrough in the talks, with the facilitation by the Royal Norwegian government,” Dureza said.

It can be recalled that the peace talks has been terminated and ceasefire has been withdrawn earlier this year after the NPA first ended its own ceasefire last February 10, citing violations of government forces in communities and the government’s failed promise to release all political prisoners.
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