July 24, 2015
Philippine Catholic, Protestant bishops call for negotiations with communist rebels
A group of Catholic and Protestant bishops called on the Philippine government on July 24 to resume peace negotiations with communist rebels.
“It is not too late for the government of President Benigno Aquino to forge an agreement with the National Democratic Front,” said Bishop Elmer Bolocon, executive secretary of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum.
The Protestant bishop said lasting peace can be Aquino’s legacy to the Filipino people when his term ends in the middle of next year.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. of the Philippine Congress said last week that peace talks with the communist-led National Democratic Front “can still be done” within Aquino’s remaining time in office. Belmonte met with front leaders in the Netherlands last month to discuss the possibility of resuming peace negotiations.
“The atmosphere is such that [peace negotiations] can still be done,” Belmonte told reporters in mid-July.
In a statement, the bishops said the “favorable atmosphere” for peace includes the openness of the new Armed Forces chief, Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri, to the resumption of talks.
“The [military] welcomes the government’s openness for the revival of the peace talks with the [communists],” the general was quoted as saying by the Philippine Star.
Belmonte said another “positive note for peace” was the statement of Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison declaring support for the government’s move to bring its problem with China over the South China Sea to the United Nations.
However, the bishops said one problem that hinders the resumption of talks is the silence of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, which has been tasked with talking with all Philippine insurgent groups.
The National Democratic Front, an alliance of communist-led underground organizations, said last April that it is ready to talk peace with the government to end more than four decades of war.
Luis Jalandoni, its chairman, told ucanews.com that the rebel group has “undertaken initiatives to try and foster the resumption of peace talks.”
Peace negotiations between the government and the front hit an impasse in 2011, with both parties pushing for preconditions before the start of another round of formal talks.
In 2013, attempts to resume the talks failed after the rebels demanded the release of political prisoners.
The Philippines military estimates the country’s communist movement has only about 4,000 armed men under its command, compared with more than 26,000 at its peak 30 years ago.