DAVAO CITY, Philippines —- Leaders of various religious groups under the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform are enjoining the public to support the third round of the formal peace talks between the government and the NDFP slated on Jan.19 to Jan. 25 in Rome, Italy.
In a statement over the weekend, PEPP said they are praying for the continuation of a positive atmosphere that was present during the first two rounds of talks.
“Our prayer goes with the hope that the negotiations on the second substantive agenda on social and economic reforms that aims to address the roots of the armed conflict, redound to a peaceful future where all the basic requirements for all Filipinos to live an abundant life, as the Lord promised, is fulfilled,” it said.
The groups also urged both parties to “put the interests of the people, especially the most vulnerable, at the center of the discussions.”
“We also call on both parties to show their fidelity to previously signed agreements especially on the Comprehensive Agreement for Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). May this fidelity also manifest as the two parties work on a possible bilateral ceasefire agreement,” the religious group added.
Among those who signed the statement were Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Fr. Rex Reyes, Jr. Of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and Bishops Deogracias Iniguez of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum.
The group also called for the release of the political prisoners, especially those who are sick and elderly.
“This is a very important confidence boosting measure that prepares the ground for even more progress to be made on reaching common understanding between the two sides,” it added.
Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan reminded the government the release of political prisoners is an obligation of the GRP under the CARHRIHL.
“It is a measure of the GRP’s commitment and adherence to peace agreements,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.
“Political prisoners and their families have been on a roller coaster ride since Pres. Rodrigo Duterte first uttered these three words – release political prisoners. They should not be reduced to political gambits and the injustice against them, through their illegal arrest, torture, and tortuous legal persecution and detention, should stop, ” Palabay said.
The group also reminded the government “that three wrongly-convicted peace consultants in detention – Eduardo Sarmiento, Leopoldo Caloza, and Emeterio Antalan – are still unable to directly participate in the formal peace talks.”
“Their continuing detention is a violation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG),” Palabay added.
Palabay believes the political prisoners “can contribute substantially in the discussions and implementation of comprehensive social and economic reforms that address poverty, social and economic inequalities, the economic and political dominance of US and other countries, because of their knowledge and experience as social activists and rights defenders.”
Government ready for talks
Government chief negotiator Silvestre Bebot III said the government is all set and ready to engage the NDF in discussing all substantive agenda.
Bello is expected to submit the draft documents that will be tabled on the third round of talks to President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday.
Among the documents to be submitted to the president are draft agreements and principles for social and economic reforms (CASER), comprehensive agreement on political and constitutional reforms and comprehensive agreement on end of hostilities and disposition of forces.
The government panel will also pay a courtesy call to the President in Malacañang before leaving Monday evening.
Bello said he is confident major breakthroughs will again be achieved in the Rome talks.
“We are prepared to sign side and other agreements while we are discussing contents and provisions of the major substantive agenda,” the chief government negotiator added.
Bello said the government is all set to sign a supplemental agreement on the CARHRIHL which will include an expanded role of the a Joint Monitoring Committee.
Bello challenged the NDF to formalize the unilateral ceasefire with a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
He said this will give the communities and combatants “a more secure environment for the peace process.”
The main group of government (GRP) delegation leaves for Rome on Tuesday, January 17 for the opening on Thursday at the Holiday Inn Rome. (davaotoday.com)