Ref: Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, DD
Tel. # 09177110563 and/or
Bishop Rex B. Reyes, Jr.
Tel.# 09956395909

We will Serve the Lord and We Choose Peace!

A statement on the tragedy in Masbate

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) expresses its deep sorrow over the deaths of Nolven Absalon, the 40-year-old Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Masbate Electric Cooperative Employees Union and his 21-year-old cousin, Keith, a football player of the Far Eastern University. We offer our prayers and heartfelt sympathies to their families, friends and colleagues. May God be with them and provide them with comfort in their time of grief.

Various leaders, personalities and groups have condemned the actions of the New People’s Army (NPA) which led to this tragedy. While the tragic incident is truly condemnable, it is also a timely reminder for us to pause and reflect. The deaths of Nolven and Keith fully underscores the cost of the armed conflict in the country between the government and the NPA along with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)/National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). This armed conflict, which has deep social, economic and political roots, has spanned more than five decades and led to the loss of thousands of lives, destruction of property and misery and hardship.

As such, what happened in Masbate puts into fore the complexity of the armed conflict in our country and the many nuances to the different aspects of the issue. There are calls for justice from the family and the public. There are mechanisms in place that can hopefully provide justice like the Comprehensive Agreement for Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and related agreements and we hope that it is not disregarded by both parties even though the peace negotiations are suspended. What is clear though is that the armed conflict will continue to generate violence on the ground and will definitely result in more loss of lives from both sides and among civilians. What is very fearsome is the call of some sectors to relentlessly pursue the NPA militarily in Masbate and throughout the country. There are already reports that the military allegedly killed three Masbate farmers accused as NPA. Such an all-out military offensive can turn that island into a howling wilderness and create more pain and suffering throughout the country. The drive to annihilate the CPP/NPA/NDF to resolve the armed conflict without addressing the roots – poverty, landlessness, inequitable access to resources – can just result in more violations to human rights and international and humanitarian law.

As church leaders, we will serve the Lord (cf. Joshua 24:15) and we choose peace and we choose life! We call on all Filipinos to not let the deaths of Nolven and Keith fan the flames of war but rather let their deaths implore us to further sow the seeds of peace that we badly need in our country. Thus, we call on the government and CPP/NPA/NDF to return to the negotiating table to address the roots of the armed conflict and respect all previous agreements.

The PEPP wholeheartedly believes that the most viable option to stop the violence on the ground and to resolve the conflict is through a negotiated peace settlement between the warring parties. We call on all peace advocates to work hand-in-hand in encouraging and accompanying both parties to once more engage in principled negotiations for a just and lasting peace.

Even as we wish that peace could be achieved with just a snap of a finger, we know that such a process is long and arduous but it can be accomplished in our lifetime, if it is approached deliberately. Therefore, let us not lose hope “…because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1: 78-79, NIV)

Issued and signed on this 12th day of June 2021.

Archbishop Emeritus Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ
Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro
Co-chairperson, PEPP

Bishop Rex B. Reyes, Jr.
Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines
Co-chairperson, PEPP

Rev. Dr. Aldrin M. Penamora
Executive Director
Commission on Justice Peace & Reconciliation
Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches

Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza
General Secretary
National Council of Churches in the Philippines

Sr. Mary John D. Mananzan, OSB
Office of Women & Gender Commission

Bishop Emeritus Deogracias S. Iniguez, Jr.
PEPP Head of the Secretariat
Co-chairperson, EBF

*The PEPP is a platform for 5 church institutions/groups, namely, the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) with organizations of Religious, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) and the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum (EBF), in working for a just and enduring peace by supporting the peace process between the GRP-NDFP.