Ecumenical group welcomes House’s call for resumption of GRP-NDFP peace talks

Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ, (left) listens as detained NDFP-Northern Mindanao official Wilfredo Mapano shares his views on the peace process during a PEPP conference in Cagayan de Oro City on June 28, 2013. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 25 December) – The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) on Tuesday said it welcomes House Resolution 2339 urging President Rodrigo Duterte to resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Adopted by the the House of Representatives on December 12, the resolution was authored by Rep. Ruby Sahali (Lone District of Tawi-tawi), chairperson of the House Special Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity.

In a statement PEPP said the resolution “is a piece of good news for peace advocates after recent events that have threatened to further derail the peace negotiations.”

The group cited the arrest of Rey Casambre and his wife, Corazon Mercado Casambre, last December 7. It said Casambre, executive director of the Philippine Peace Center, has contributed PEPP’s ministry and advocacy as a resource person for its various activities including the 7thEcumenical Church Leaders’ Summit held last November 7-9, in Cebu City.

“Casambre is a publicly known participant in the GRP-NDFP peace talks and his expertise in relation to the peace process has been sought not only by different peace advocacy groups but different media outlets as well. While Cora was recently freed, he remains unjustly incarcerated along with other peace consultants of the NDFP,” it added.

Casambre and his wife were arrested last December 7 in Bacoor, Cavite in an incident which police tagged as an arrest of “Central Committee members of the Communist Party of the Philippines.”

Police said a caliber 45 pistol, ammunition and a fragmentation grenade were found in their possession during the arrest.

PEPP also expressed concern over the resignation of Jesus Dureza as head of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the appointment of retired Armed Forces chief of staff Carlito Galvez as his replacement.

“PEPP echoes the apprehensiveness of the Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao that the ‘collateral damage’ of Sec. Dureza’s resignation is the sound, rational, and people-centered perspective in the negotiations,” it said.

The group, however, said that it wishes and prays that General Galvez would work to “break the impasse in the GRP-NDPF peace talks and proceed with the still unfinished agenda of forging an agreement for social and economic reforms while abiding by previously signed agreements like the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).”

PEPP appealed to Duterte to revert his order to the AFP to “destroy” the Communist Party of the Philippines and its alleged legal front organizations.

“As leaders of churches in the country, we are troubled by this announcement and the escalation of violence and violation of human rights that will surely ensue,” it said.

“As we celebrate the day of birth of Jesus Christ, the bearer of hope, we affirm our belief that peace is possible through principled dialogue and that the peace talks are still the most viable option to attain a just and enduring peace in the country. We call on President Duterte to heed House Resolution 2339 and continue the peace negotiations with the NDFP and resume the formal peace talks,” the statement issued on Christmas Day said.

It called for the release of Rey Casambre and other NDFP peace consultants “as a gesture of magnanimity especially during this season of hope and to reciprocate the Christmas ceasefire of the New People’s Army (NPA).”

It also asked the New People’s Army to release the government soldiers and militiamen who were taken as “prisoners of war” after a raid on a detachment in Sibagat, Agusan del Sur so they may join their families for the holiday season.

The statement was signed by PEPP co-chairs Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ, of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro and Bishop Rex R.B. Reyes Jr. of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines; Bishop Deogracias Iniguez Jr., co-chair of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum; Bishop Noel Pantoja, national director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches; and Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB, of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines. (MindaNews)