The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) welcomed the declaration of a ceasefire by both the government and communist rebels, saying peace is very much needed in these trying times.
“The PEPP appreciates the commitment of both parties to halt hostilities, even for just a brief period, in order to address the COVID-19 pandemic,” read the group’s statement released on March 26.
“Peace, however fragile, is very much needed in these trying times,” added the statement signed by Catholic and Protestant church leaders.
The communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines had approved a unilateral ceasefire from March 26 until April 15.
The declaration followed a United Nations call for a global truce for countries to focus on the new coronavirus pandemic.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier declared a unilateral ceasefire, from March 19 until April 15.
The PEPP expressed hope that the unilateral ceasefire declarations will be faithfully observed by the warring parties, especially on the ground.
“We hope that after this predicament, the [government and rebel] peace negotiations will prosper and peace will be had by all in our country,” said the church leaders.
The Philippine government backed out from peace talks with communist rebels in 2017, as both sides accused each other of ceasefire violations.
The two sides have been considering returning to the negotiating table, but Duterte and exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison could not agree on contentious issues, including the venue for the meetings.
The communist-led New People’s Army has waged a five-decade armed insurgency in the country — the longest running in Asia.
The church group also appealed to the government “to exercise its magnanimity” and release on humanitarian grounds political prisoners, especially the sick and the elderly.
In earlier statements, the PEPP has called on the government and the rebels to immediately work for the resumption of formal peace talks “to address the roots of the armed conflict.”
PEPP also urged the negotiating panels to “work for the signing” of the agreement on social and economic reforms, and “a bilateral ceasefire agreement.”
The group appealed to the government to release political prisoners, including peace consultants “on humanitarian grounds”, and encouraged the communist rebels to release their prisoners of war.
PEPP called on faith-based organizations and religious communities “to expand the effort” to conduct creative activities to gather support for the resumption of the formal peace talks.
The PEPP counts among its members the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, and the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum.