Bishops are leading peace talks with communist rebels on Samar island

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 21) — The local government and the Catholic Church on Samar island have appointed three bishops to lead localized peace negotiations with armed communist rebels.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in a statement on Thursday said peace talks in the region will now be led by Bishop Isabelo Abarquez of the Diocese of Calbayog in Samar, Bishop Emmanuel Trance of the Diocese of Catarman in Northern Samar, and Bishop Crispin Vasquez from the Diocese of Borongan in Eastern Samar.

The panel was created after the Samar Island Partnership for Peace and Development, an organization composed of representatives from the government, church, and civil society groups in the region passed a resolution pushing for church-led peace talks.

OPPAP said Borongan Mayor Jose Ivan Dayan Agda made the proposal and quoted him as saying, "[the] religious sector is more credible than the politicians in leading the localized peace engagements with the rebel group."

This is consistent with the national government's resolve for localized peace talks ever since President Rodrigo Duterte walked away from negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in 2017. The NDFP represents rebels in talks to end the five-decade insurgency waged by the Communist of the Philippines and its armed wing New People's Army.

READ: How peace talks with communist rebels failed

Despite a promising start to the peace talks during Duterte's first year in office, the negotiations broke down as government troops and rebels accused each other of ceasefire violations. Duterte has since called on members of the NPA to surrender on their own, promising cash, housing, and livelihood assistance.

The CPP leadership has rejected the localized talks and accused the government of fabricating reports on the massive surrenders of armed rebels.

The two sides are now considering returning to the negotiating table, but Duterte and CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison could not agree on contentious issues, including the venue of the meeting.

READ: Duterte dares Sison to a one-on-one talk in PH