Church leaders in the Philippines welcomed the signing of an agreement between the government and communist rebels to bring a temporary stop to armed clashes.
The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) said the outcome of the ongoing talks "shows that the concerns of the people are central to resolve the decades-old armed conflict in our land." The PEPP is an alliance of Catholic and Protestant church leaders who have been pressing for a negotiated end to the almost five-decade communist insurgency.
The fourth round of formal talks between the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines ended on April 6 in the Netherlands. Both sides firmed up an agreement on free land distribution "as a basic principle of genuine agrarian reform."
"This is the main message of the meeting ... and an achievement of the fourth round of talks," read a statement signed by both sides at the end of the talks. They earlier agreed to an interim joint ceasefire, which was described as a "significant step forward" for a conducive environment for the negotiations.
The government also offered to conditionally pardon 23 rebel prisoners.The rebels, meanwhile, agreed to release soldiers and policemen they hold captive.
Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro congratulating the peace negotiators, said the agreements signed is "a signpost of hope after the impasse of these past two months." Peace negotiations were suspended after both the government and rebels ended their truce declarations in February over disagreements in the release of prisoners, among others.
Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon, head of the Episcopal Commission on Mission of the bishops' conference, expressed "hope that the nation will now be at peace." The prelate said that with a stop to clashes President Rodrigo Duterte "can say to himself that during his administration the rebellion will finally end."
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, head of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, urged Filipinos to their offer prayers during the Holy Week for the success of the talks. "Let us think of our country before ourselves, let us think of others before ourselves, let us thing of the teachings of the Lord," said Bishop Santos.
The church leaders vowed to mobilize the constituents including the resources of the churches to ensure that the interim joint ceasefire can attain its objectives. According to the PEPP statement, they also wish to continue their commitment to help facilitate the release of military and police elements in the custody of the rebels as well as the prisoners listed by the rebels.
As per an EU statement, the European Union also acclaims the talks, saying that it demonstrates the power of political processes to resolve conflict and is an encouraging step towards generating goodwill and trust in the peace negotiations. (UCAN)