Ecumenical group urges gov’t, rebels to observe Christmas truce

CAGAYAN DE ORO (MindaNews / 17 December) – A group of leaders from various religious denominations has called on the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) “to silence the guns” of their combatants in the spirit of Christmas.

Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ, of Cagayan de Oro Archdiocese, speaks at the “Peace Conversations” hosted by Balay Mindanaw in Cagayand de Oro City Wednesday (5 September 2018). He said peace in Mindanao needs sincerity, security, solidarity, sensitivity, spirituality and sustainability. MindaNews photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) said it was concerned over the deteriorating prospects of peace after President Rodrigo Duterte and the NDFP ruled out a ceasefire during the holidays.

“The advent season is upon us, yet unpeace reigns,” the religious group led by Archbishop Emeritus Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro said.

The group said the recent announcements of Duterte and the NDF were in sharp contrast to last year’s back channel negotiations between the two parties that resulted in a Christmas ceasefire.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, PEPP said Duterte rejected the results of the back channel talks and stopped further peace negotiations with the communist rebels.

The group said the government proceeded to heighten its war against the NDFP, the New People’s Army and is “legal fronts”.

It said it was raising its “alarm and concern over the deteriorating prospects for peace in our land”.

“The advent season is upon us, yet unpeace reigns. Respect for human rights, which is a primary requisite for peace, is ignored, or worse, demonized as a barrier to ‘peace and order’. This is evident in the arrests of a journalist and six union organizers, on the day when the whole world was commemorating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Several activists have also been arrested or killed in the past few months while numerous lives continue to be claimed under the campaign against illegal drugs,” it said.

“Harmful rhetoric abounds, even coming from the President himself,” it added.

NPA fighters. MindaNews file photo

Aside from Ledesma, the statement was signed Reverend Rex Reyes Jr. of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum, Bishop Reuel Norman Mananzan of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and Bishop Emeritus Deogracias Iniguez Jr.

Last December 7, Duterte ruled out a holiday ceasefire with the communist rebels.

The president also rejected the resumption of peace talks and renewed his vow to crush the communist insurgency.

“There will be no ceasefire ever again under my term as president. For all intents and purposes, the ceasefire is dead,” he said.

The NDFP responded by rejected the holding of a Christmas truce and directed its armed wing, the NPA to continue carrying out offensives against government troops and the police.

“The NDFP is forced to dispense with the traditional holiday ceasefire this year,” the rebel group said. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)