Bishop encourages peace zones amid Filipino communist rebellion

Philippines flag Credit ronaldbuday Shutterstock CNA The flag of the Philippines. | ronaldbuday/Shutterstock.

After a recent military attack in the southern Philippines, a bishop has called on the government and rebel forces to withdraw soldiers from tribal communities.

Bishop Valentin Dimoc, Vicar Apostolic of Bontoc-Lagawe and the Filipino bishops' chair for indigenous peoples, has asked both state and non-state military to leave tribal lands alone following reports on displaced communities and civilian violence.

Nearly 100 families were reportedly forced to flee from Diatagon, a village in the Surigao del Sur province, Feb. 29. Government troops had swept through the area looking for communist rebels, the human rights group Karapatan said, according to UCA News.

Three people were injured during a shootout among the houses of the village. The attack also injured a five-year-old child.

Army spokesman Ezra Balagtey blamed the rebels for the violence in the village. He said they were trying to prevent "the establishment of a government school for tribal children," UCA News reported.

Bishop Dimoc issued an appeal to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. He encouraged the establishment of "peace zones" which would prohibit any arm groups from entering the tribal areas.

"The military and the communist (rebels) must honor such policy," said the bishop, noting that it will help diminish displacement, violence, and bloodshed, LICAS News reported.

On Feb. 29, communist leader Jose Maria Sison said the group was still open for peace talks but not with government officials. He said he would rather negotiate with clergymen than politicians.

Three Filipino bishops accepted roles as negotiators at the 43rd Samar Island Partnership for Peace and Development.

Bishop Crispin Varquez of Borongan expressed hope that these peace talks would lead to an end to the insurgency, which has affected Samar's economy and development.

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