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Church leaders hope govt,​ Reds to resume ​talks ​as gov’t yet to hand formal ​​notice of termination

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — ​While the government is yet to serve formal notice terminating the peace negotiation, Church leaders and peace advocates ​hope ​that ​this would also give them space for continuing the talks.

​More than 100 of the country’s clergy and lay church leaders are calling on government to resume talks with the communists as they concluded a church leaders summit held recently in Cavite.

They said they are keeping their hope for the resumption of peace talks since the government has not yet submitted a notice of formal termination to the NDFP.

“Our hope for a just and enduring peace remains as there is no formal termination yet of the peace negotiations,” they said.

The Summit was held from August 8-10 in Tagaytay City and was attended by 130 leaders of church from various parts of the country. They came from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum (EBF), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) and the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP).

The gathering was led by the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), a network of Christian advocates for genuine and lasting peace.

In a statement of the 6th Ecumenical Church Leaders Summit for Peace signed by Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform co-chairpersons (PEPP) co-chairs Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma and NCCP General Secretary Rex RB Reyes Jr., the leaders “expressed sadness at the recent developments in the negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) that are now suspended indefinitely.”

“Violence is intensifying and spilling over into communities throughout the Philippines. Stories from the regions validated this fact,” they said.

“In the crossfire, innocent civilians are victims, especially from indigenous peoples’ communities,” the statement added.

The religious leaders also expressed “grave concern” over Duterte’s declaration of all-out war and the New People’s Army response of aggressive attacks against state forces.

During his first visit to government troops fighting in Marawi City on July 20, Duterte said the government will run after the NPAs after the crisis in Marawi City is ended.

Duterte condemned the offensives of the NPAs against government troops which the communists said is their response to the extension of the implementation of Martial Law in Mindanao until the end of the year.

The church leaders said the gains of the past four formal talks and numerous back-channel negotiations “from steps forward in the Comprehensive Agreement on Social Economic Reforms (CASER) to a bilateral ceasefire and the reinstituting of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), would go to waste with the present atmosphere.”

They said the government and the NDFP should resume the peace talks and work for the immediate approval of a CASER, which negotiators see as the “heart and soul” of the peace process.

They also called for the release of political prisoners and “prisoners of war” held by both the government and the communists.

“We will help transform this crisis into an opportunity for us to work together,” they said.