The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP)* joins all peace advocates in rejoicing over the news of the continuation of the formal peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), with the fourth round scheduled in April and the fifth of June 2017. The two parties have recently released a joint statement after their informal talks last 10-11 March 2017 in Utrecht, The Netherlands after threshing out outstanding issues in a principled manner with the Royal Norwegian Government as third party facilitator.
The PEPP has stated that negotiations should not be bogged down by accusations and counter-accusations and the Utrecht Joint Statement is a testament to the power of principled dialogue. We welcome the fact that all past agreements were reaffirmed including those forged in the last three formal rounds of talks between the two parties.
The GRP and the NDFP also agreed on forging an “interim bilateral ceasefire” after issues and concerns in relation to both parties’ unilateral ceasefires from the period of August 2016 to February 2017 have been resolved. We hope that the unilateral ceasefires by both parties that will be reinstated before the fourth round of talks will be observed. We also pray that the proverbial swords of war that were unsheathed resulting to casualties on both sides and also of civilians and non-combatants in the last few weeks after the talks broke down, will not be drawn once more. This comes also with our hope that a bilateral ceasefire will be agreed upon and faithfully observed including compliance to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). The CARHRIHL and the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) are viable instruments to address accusations from both sides and can prevent breakdowns in the future.
We also applaud the reinstatement of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the assurance of the safety and participation of the NDFP Consultants in the talks as well as the move by the GRP to ensure the release of some of the political prisoners.
We look forward to more positive outcomes in the next rounds of talks especially in relation to the agenda on social and economic reforms in order to address the roots of the armed conflict.
Let us all pray and work for peace and guard against those who are aiming to spoil the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations for their own ends. There will be more bumps ahead towards the road to a just and enduring peace, but if we continue to be vigilant and see to it that the parties involved stay on course, a better “...future awaits those who seek peace” (Psalms 37:37).
Issued and signed on this 15th day of March 2017.
ARCHBISHOP ANTONIO J. LEDESMA, S.J., D.D.
Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines
REV. FR. REX RB REYES, JR.
National Council of Churches in the Philippines
BISHOP NOEL A. PANTOJA
Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches
THE MOST REV. DEOGRACIAS S. INIGUEZ, JR., D.D.
Ecumenical Bishops Forum
SR. MARY JOHN D. MANANZAN, OSB
Office of the Women Gender Commission
Association of Major Religious Superior in the Philippines
*The PEPP is a platform for 5 church institutions/groups, namely, the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP), Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) and the Ecumenical Bishops' Forum (EBF), in working for a just and enduring peace by supporting the peace process between the GRP-NDFP.