By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — Church leaders from the different Christian denominations in Northern Luzon met in the city on August 27-28 to affirm their commitment for peace building. The gathering aimed to provide updates on the peace talks between the Philippine government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), and present the overview of the draft Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER).
This also served as avenue for the PEPP secretariat, headed by Kalookan Bishop Emeritus Deogracias Iñiguez, to share their national peace campaign and for the launching of PEPP Cordillera.
The Regional Ecumenical Council in the Cordillera (RECCord) in cooperation with the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) organized the activity.
In his declaration to recognize the PEPP formation in the region, Iñiguez said “we shall now be working together for a life of peace not only for us but for the generations to come.”
The PEPP leadership and the NDFP also commended the organizers and participants for keeping their optimism despite the challenges met in their peace advocacy.
“The contributions of the people of the Cordillera towards peace making are forged from the crucible of experience and a spirituality that promotes harmony, community and inter relatedness,” writes Anglican Bishop Rex Reyes, in his message as co-chairperson of the PEPP.
He also stressed the new formation “is not meant to supplant” existing church organizations but aimed to strengthen “partnership” among the different denominations’ peace building initiatives.
The revolutionary group’s chief negotiator, Fidel Agcaoili, also sent a message in behalf of the NDFP. He expressed his high recognition for the organizers and participants for their “continuing advocacy of peace and justice especially in these challenging times.”
Still open to negotiate
“Ang usaping pangkapayapaan ay hindi dapat tanggihan ng sinuman. Kahit sa pinakamahirap na kalagayan dapat huwag tayong mawalan ng pag-asa,” opened NDFP Consultant Randy Malayao, before proceeding to his presentation.
He discussed updates on the peace negotiations and the overview of the approved outline of the CASER. The rebel consultant also shared insights on the key proposals of the NDFP on how to proceed with national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform.
Agcaoili said the talks between the GRP and his group have “hit a low point” caused by the Duterte government’s termination of the talks three times, and foiling attempts to resume it through back channel negotiations.
The NDFP chief negotiator assured the participants that should the Duterte administration “miraculously manifest” its readiness to return to the table to negotiate, they will “seriously consider” the proposal.
PEPP Cordillera lead convenor, Bishop Joseph Agpaoa of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) North Luzon Jurisdiction, said they will work hard to reach greater number of peace advocates and push for the resumption of the talks.
The Roman Catholic Church, Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, UCCP, Episcopal Church of the Philippines, Igesia Filipina Independiente, Zion Christian Center, Church of the Nazarene and the United Methodist Church attended the activity sent their representatives to convene PEPP Cordillera.
PEPP is a faith-based network established in 2007 to work for the attainment of just and lasting peace in the country. Mainly, the group supports the call to address the root of the armed rebellion through the negotiation between the communist-led NDFP and the Philippine government.
In the national level, PEPP is composed of the five church federations: the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines and the Ecumenical Bishop’s Forum. #nordis.net