Screenshots from The Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines — Four presidential candidates have expressed willingness to reopen negotiations with the communist movement if ever they get elected, raising hopes from peace advocacy groups especially in Mindanao.

The four presidential aspirants – Vice President Leni Robredo, Senators Manny Pacquiao and Panfilo Lacson, and Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso – were one in saying that they would revive peace talks. This was raised during the televised interview with GMA broadcast journalist Jessica Soho on January 22.

The interfaith group Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao welcomed the candidates’ pronouncement.

“If these four presidential candidates are committing to the peace talks, that’s a welcome for us peace advocates and churches, as well,” said Bishop Felixberto Calang, head of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in Cagayan de Oro, and Sowing the Seeds lead convener, in a phone interview.

Calang said the negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) must be revived after President Rodrigo Duterte terminated the talks midway into discussing the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reform in 2017.

Duterte, a former ally of the communist movement, created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict after the breakdown of talks. This has led to red tagging and harassment of activists and critics.

Several consultants of the National Democratic Front and key leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines were also killed in military operations in the past few years.

But peace groups including Sowing the Seeds and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform said the military approach has made peace more elusive

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“Our society needs to pursue peace talks with the rebel groups because the purpose of going to the negotiating table is to address the root cause of the armed conflict,” Calang said.

He added that after more than 50 years of waging war against the revolutionary movement, “the military might have been tested to be a failure.”

With a new leadership coming in a few months from now, Calang said they are looking forward to the resumption of the peace talks.

“The peace agreement that will be crafted once the talks are realized is to address the roots of poverty and discrimination, and that is good. It is important for governance, so people’s lives could be uplifted,” the prelate said.

The Jessica Soho interviews invited Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who declined to attend the event. Another presidential candidate, labor leader Leody de Guzman, was not included, but had expressed openness to talk with the communists to resolve the roots of the armed conflict. (

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