Indian Catholic News

'Take bold steps,' Filipino bishops tell peace negotiators

Fifth round of peace talks set to begin with communist rebels, groups demand release of Protestant prelate.


Catholic bishops in the Philippines this week called on the government and the rebel National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to "take bold steps" to end almost half a century of communist insurgency in the country.

"This is what we ask of the negotiators on both sides of the table, do not be afraid to take the bold steps that alone can bring peace," said Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the country's Catholic bishops' conference.

A fifth round of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the NDFP are set to open in Noordwijk in The Netherlands on May 27.

The resumption of peace talks had a strong start last year with President Rodrigo Duterte's apparent close relationship with leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging the longest-running communist insurgency in Asia.

Disagreements on the how to proceed with a ceasefire deal, continuing armed clashes, and the arrest of several rebel consultants have caused delays and problems.

The government still refuses to release all political prisoners.

"Be not afraid," said Archbishop Villegas in his statement, as he reminded both sides that "intransigence is not a strength rather humility is."

“Peace can still rebuild our nation," he said.

Calls for release of political prisoners

Faith-based and human rights groups, meanwhile, continue to call for the immediate release of Protestant Bishop Carlo Morales, who was arrested early this month, and all political prisoners before the next round of peace talks.

In separate letters to Duterte, the World Council of Churches, the Christian Conference of Asia, and the United Church of Canada called for the release of Bishop Morales, saying that the prelate's arrest and detention" is appalling and a violation of human rights."

Patti Talbot, team leader of the Church in Mission Unit of the United Church of Canada, said "it is especially offensive that this be accorded to a person who is a religious leader, a bishop who has an obligation to provide protection or sanctuary to a person who is in distress."

Bishop Morales was arrested on May 11 at a checkpoint in the southern Philippines after he gave a ride to a rebel peace consultant. The bishop has been charged with "illegal possession of firearms and explosives."

Days before the start of the next round of talks, the NDFP reiterated its stand that only when reforms on economy and politics are in place can there be negotiations on the end of the armed struggle waged by the communist rebels.

Rebel spokesman Fidel Agcaoili said the rebel group is engaging with the government in the negotiations to find political solution to the armed conflict that "calls for drastic change of the status quo through needed social, economic and political reforms."

Agcaoili said the peace talks aims to achieve a just and lasting peace by addressing the roots of the armed conflict.

Source: UCAN

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