Philippine churches urged to spur peace efforts with rebels

Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro joined other Philippine religious leaders in ringing bells in a symbolic gesture to call for peace during a peace forum in Manila on September 12. Photo: UCAN/Jire Carreon

MANILA (UCAN): Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, the southern Philippines, has called on Churches and religious groups to host “local peace conversations” among stakeholders to advance peace efforts with communist rebels and avert an escalation in violence.

The archbishop made the call in the wake of a renewed call by the country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, on September 10 to launch an “all-out war” against communist rebels.

He warned that imposing state-drafted development goals without consulting grassroots communities would only worsen conflict in the Philippines’ rural areas.

Bishop Ledesma called on the government and the rebels to resume peace negotiations during a peace forum in Manila on September. 12.

The bishop who heads the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform slammed the government’s practice of branding people communist rebels, saying it heralds killings.

Bishop Ledesma cited a series of killings of activists and government critics in the central Philippine island of Negros in recent months. 

He said peace talks must remain at the national level, rejecting a government proposal to hold local peace negotiations.

“Local peace conversations, yes, but these should not replace national peace talks,” the bishop said after the forum.

He said, “Peace conversations should support national peace talks,” adding that there is a need for third-party negotiators and a neutral venue for negotiations.

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Duterte earlier insisted that exiled communist leaders return home for the talks—a move rebels described as “suicide.”

Bishop Ledesma said a national framework is needed for a cohesive resolution to long-festering socio-economic woes in the country, citing land issues as a major factor in the rise of the Philippines’ communist insurgency.

The bishop lamented the scrapping of peace talks in 2017 just as negotiators had hammered out a landmark agrarian reform agreement featuring free land distribution as well as another landmark document on a bilateral ceasefire framework when Duterte pulled out of the talks.

He formally announced the end of peace talks in July 2018 despite negotiators’ efforts at backdoor talks.

Bishop Ledesma noted that many of the killings in Negros stemmed from harsh reprisals against an upsurge in militancy among agricultural workers who have become impatient over land distribution.

“I can understand that they see the need for more radical means,” the bishop said, stressing that only national peace talks and a final peace deal could end agrarian unrest.

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