The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) denounced the rash of extrajudicial killings that has terrorized the island of Negros.

“We support the joint pastoral letter of Bishops Gerardo Alminaza (San Carlos) Julito Cortes (Dumaguete), Patricio Buzon (Bacolod) and Louie Galbines (Kabankalan) condemning the killings. We condole with the families of the 17 victims, including a 1-year old baby, that were killed during the month of July alone. May God’s consoling hands be with them in their time of grief. We also offer our prayers to the families of the four police officers who were also killed in an attack by the New People’s Army (NPA) last July 14,” said the PEPP in a statement on August 8.

PEPP recounted the spate of killing prior the recent 17 killed in the month of July.

“The island of Negros has experienced a very disturbing pattern of human rights violations in recent times since the murder of known human rights lawyer, Atty. Ben Ramos, the massacre of nine farmers in Sagay in 2018 and the mass killings last March 30 of 14 farmers by police officers in Canlaon City and Manjuyod and Santa Catalina towns in Negros Oriental,” said PEPP.

The statement also recounted attacks on church people, human rights defenders and other civilians.

“There was also the illegal arrest of Jimmy Teves, a pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and his members in Buenavista, Himamaylan, Negros Occidental last June 26. The recent victims include two lawyers, a former mayor and his cousin, a city councilor, a village chief, a school principal and his sister also a teacher, a doctor, and other human rights defenders and community leaders,” said the statement.

The statement was signed by Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of the Archdiocese of Cagayan De Oro City and the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Rev. Fr. Rex R. B. Reyes, Jr. of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, Jr. of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF), Bishop Noel Pantoja of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) and Sr. Mary John Mananzan of the OWGC- Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP).

The PEPP is a platform for the CBCP, NCCP, AMRSP with organizations of Religious, PCEC and the EBF in working for a just and enduring peace by supporting the peace process between the GRP-NDFP.

President Rodrigo Duterte on the same day said the communist rebels are “insisting” on resuming peace negotiations with the government, in a speech before high-ranking police officials in Malacañang.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Information Bureau issued a statement saying the “CPP and the New People’s Army (NPA) maintain a policy of keeping its doors always open to peace negotiations,” but they are doubtful of peace talks resumption under Duterte’s presidency despite public clamor.

“The [National Democratic Front of the Philippines] NDFP is ever heedful of the clamor of various sectors for the resumption of peace negotiations amid Duterte’s all-out war,” the statement issued on August 8 said.

The CPP and the NDFP said the “prevailing political environment under the Duterte regime is not conducive to resuming peace negotiations.”

“Peace talks cannot be resumed as long as Duterte’s 2017 proclamation terminating peace negotiations remains in place. The situation is made worse by widespread killings by Duterte’s agents in Negros and across the country, continuing incarceration of leading NDFP consultants as well as the recent arrest and detention of two members of the NDFP peace staff,” they said in the statement.

Duterte signed Proclamation No. 360 on Nov. 23, 2017 declaring the termination of peace negotiations with the CPP and NPA, represented by the NDFP.

Another resumption was scheduled in late June 2018, but it was canceled as the government instead sought to review first all agreements the communists signed with past administrations.

In July last year, Duterte opted for localized peace talks or negotiations between local communist rebels and local government units. The CPP rejected the guidelines for localized peace talks, as this run counter to previous joint agreements in the three-decades old peace negotiations.

In December 2018, Duterte signed Executive Order No. 70 to create a national task force to “end local communist armed conflict.”

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