By Jigger J. Jerusalem
Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement that his administration will never go back to the negotiating table with the National Democratic Front and its political wing the Communist Party of the Philippines, a Roman Catholic Church leader has remained optimistic as he urged both sides to reconsider the revival of the peace talks.
Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, the archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, said both the government and the Communist rebels must recommence the dialogue for the sake of the environment.
Ledesma, who chairs the Cagayan de Oro River Basin Management Council, said it is imperative that the talks be revived as it would mean the empowering the tribal communities who are also the protectors of the environment but have been affected by the ongoing conflict between the state forces and Maoist insurgents in the mountains.
“I think all the more we should say to resume the peace talks so that our protection of the environment can also be protected more thoroughly,” the prelate said on the sidelines of the council’s event held in the city recently.
He said, “it is imperative that we involve our lumad communities” living in conflict zones where reports of environmental degradation are also happening.
The council has been on the forefront of taking the initiative to protect the surviving rainforests surrounding the city’s watershed particularly in Bukidnon and to plant more trees in the areas where logging activities have caused soil erosion and flooding in the lowlands.
Ledesma said the government must also work to address the poverty and lack of basic services in hinterland villages where accessibility has proven to be a challenge for state agencies.
He added he is still hopeful that Duterte will give peace talks another chance in spite of his flip-flopping several times in the past.