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‘Climate of fear’ worries Ledesma

CAGAYAN de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma is one of the leaders of an ecumenical group that sounded alarm bells over what they called as “the escalating atmosphere of fear and uncertainty,” the vilification campaign against critics of the Duterte administration, and anomalies and corruption in government taking place since Rodrigo Duterte’s rise to the presidency.

Ledesma’s group, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (Pepp), also called on the Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front (NDF) to resume peace negotiations.

The strongly worded Pepp statement was signed by Archbishop Ledesma and Right Rev. Bishop Rex B. Reyes Jr. of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, both Pepp co-chairpersons.

Other signatories are Bishop Noel Pantoja, national director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches; Bishop Emeritus Deogracias Iniguez Jr., co-chairperson of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum; and Sr. Mary John Mananzan of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines’ Women and Gender Commission.

Part of the Sept. 13 statement reads that the religious leaders are “gravely concerned and alarmed over the escalating atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in our national life brought about by speeches and public discourses that sow hate and war.

“We are also saddened by the daily doses of news reports of anomalies and corruption.”

Pepp cited the controversies hounding the Bureau of Corrections (Bucor) in connection with the questionable release of prisoners convicted of heinous crimes, and the plunge in the prices of palay

Pepp stated: “We lament the worsening animosity over an already fractured social fabric and the scourge of misery that continue to plague a majority of our fellow citizens.”

The organization said the situation sprang from the pronouncement of the President Duterte of an “all-out war against communist insurgents” and statements of Armed Forces officials to employ lethal and non-lethal means “to hit the enemy hard.”

It said, “Apparently, part of the strategy is to target and vilify schools, revive the anti-subversion law, red tag church people, journalists, human rights defenders and other critics of the government among others.

“That bishops and priests are among the respondents in a case of sedition and a pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Negros is in jail along with some of his members based on trumped up charges, for instance, are also portents.”

Pepp said the climate was different three years ago at the onset of the Duterte presidency when there was vibrant optimism as the formal peace talks between the government and the NDF resumed. It said that in that brief span, there were ceasefires, and there was reason to believe that both panels involved in the peace talks were hard at work to hammer out details of the peace agenda.

It said the situation changed with the counter-insurgency strategy through “Oplan Kapanatagan,” the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, and the deployment of troops in many areas like Negros, Bicol and Samar which “is disheartening as it breeds more animosity and espouses more violence.”

Pepp added: “We know that every administration since the Marcos dictatorship adopted their respective counter-insurgency programs designed to wipe out the enemy through military might.  But the armed conflict still continues to rage, notwithstanding occasional pronouncements that there were only a few hundreds of insurgents. This supports our view that addressing the roots of dissent is at the core of the search for peace and justice.” 

Pepp called on the Duterte administration and the NDF to return to the negotiating table and resume the formal peace talks even as it pointed out that a negotiated peace settlement, based on fundamental social, economic and political reforms, is what our nation yearns for. (HG)

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