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“Dialogue and Peace Talks: The Way Forward”

Statement of its 8th Ecumenical Church Leaders’ Summit on Peace
December 8, 2019

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), gathered for the 8th Ecumenical Church Leaders’ Summit on Peace in Silang, Cavite, under the theme: “Being a Church for Transformative Peace in these Challenging Times”. The Summit brought together 110 church leaders – clergy, women religious, and lay – from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao representing five major religious federations/groups* in the Philippines with the participation of international partners, youth and other peace advocates from civil society and other faith traditions.

The Summit participants heard testimonies from the three (3) major regions of the country, expressing the common experience of worsening poverty, especially among rice farmers, and intensifying violence, with seemingly no end in sight. There was shared sadness over the loss of innocent lives, those who by virtue of serving the poor and oppressed, are maligned as supporters or members of front organizations labelled as “Communist Terrorist Groups”. There was shared recognition that dialogue and peace talks are urgently needed but effectively unworkable when the Government of the Republic of the Philippines through the Department of National Defense (DND), has demonized the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)/New People’s Army (NPA)/National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), as a Communist Terrorist Group.

The PEPP Summit took time to pray and remember those peace advocates who have been incarcerated and even murdered for their principled commitments to work for peace and justice. The Summit lifted up Atty. Benjamin Ramos assassinated in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental, whose murder remains unsolved. Mr. Rey Claro Casambre, of the Philippine Peace Center, who was arrested on December 7, 2018 and is languishing in jail for a year, due to charges he denies and is presently proving in court to be false accusations against him. The Summit unanimously voted to call for his immediate release and those of other peace consultants as well. The participants also prayed for and expressed deep concern for Sister Ellen Belardo facing a warrant of arrest following a perjury case filed against the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

The PEPP Summit entered a process of discernment on how to be a light and salt of the earth for transformative peace. It drew out suggestions from the delegates, strategies and best practices for peace. The recurring theme was dialogue, reconstituting the Peace Panels and the resumption of the Peace Talks as the only way forward.

The discernment process also emboldened the delegates to continue expanding and reaching out to the Filipino people and offering a message of positive peace. A peace that is not won by the barrel of a gun, nor by demonizing the enemy, but through constructive dialogue. This is through the pursuit of a peace agreement that is mutually acceptable and will address the root causes of the longest-running armed conflict in Asia to date.

The PEPP Summit welcomed and celebrated the recent news reports received on December 5, 2019, that President Rodrigo R. Duterte is sending his emissary, Labor Secretary and erstwhile head of the government peace panel, Sec. Silvestre Bello III, to meet with the NDFP leadership in Utrecht, Netherlands, to commence back channel negotiations toward the possible resumption of the formal peace negotiations. The news was also positively welcomed by NDFP Chief Political Consultant, Prof. Jose Ma. Sison. The PEPP Summit hopes that these developments will pave the way for the immediate resumption of formal peace talks.

After three days of reflection and discernment, our calls remain resolute:

For the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to work towards the resumption of the formal peace talks to address the roots of the armed conflict. To immediately work for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) and a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

For the Government to immediately release Rey Claro Casambre and other political prisoners including NDFP peace consultants on humanitarian grounds and for the CPP-NPA-NDF to release prisoners of war as well.

For faith communities to expand the effort to conduct creative activities (formal and non-formal education, both in public and private schools) and dialogue under the banner of PEPP, and to further broaden the support for resumption of the GRP-NDFP formal peace talks.

We vow to continue to use our faith resources and moral leadership to further expand the work of PEPP throughout the Philippines. We will not stop and we will break the walls among religions and build bridges instead. As we pursue the promise of peace and the reign of God, we affirm the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6.

Issued and signed on this 6th day of December 2019.

[ **The PEPP is a platform for 5 church institutions/groups, namely, the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) with organizations of Religious, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) and the Ecumenical Bishops' Forum (EBF), in working for a just and enduring peace by supporting the peace process between the GRP-NDFP. ]