Catholic and Protestant church leaders on Thursday urged the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) to bring the peace negotiations back on track and resolve the decades-old communist insurgency in the country.
In a statement, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) also urged the Aquino administration to release the NDF consultants who are in government custody, the bone of contention in the talks which caused its shelving in February 2011.
“As written in the book of Nehemiah, God’s people said, ‘Let us start rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.’ We therefore exhort both panels to rebuild! Break the impasse now!” the PEPP said.
“Our call to rebuild is also an appeal to President Benigno S. Aquino III to shepherd the formal peace talks between the (government) and the (NDF) just like he did with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front). His commitment to the negotiations can help create a positive atmosphere to resume the formal talks,” the group said.
The signatories included Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma SJ, DD; Fr. Rex R. B. Reyes Jr. of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines; Bishop John R. Tayoto of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches; Sr. Aurora A. Codiam, SIHM, of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines–Women; and Bishop Felixberto L. Calang of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum.
They issued the statement after meeting in Baguio City for the 3rd Ecumenical Church Leaders Summit on Peace.
“This has been the largest gathering of church leaders brought together by the PEPP, with 76 leaders from Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao,” the statement said.
“We have gathered to bring our collective strength together in an effort to encourage a breakthrough in the impasse that has stalled the peace talks since February 2011,” it added.
The PEPP said its plea to the government to release the NDF consultants did not hinge solely on the contested issue of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) but also on “the basis of humanitarian and other practical reasons.”
“If need be, we support that both panels immediately reconstruct the Jasig list to ensure that the security of all those involved from both sides is respected and guaranteed,” the group said.