Philippines: religious leaders urge government to return to talks with rebels

 Protestant, Muslim and Catholic religious leaders have expressed concern over the breakdown in peace negotiations between the government and the Moro rebels. In a statement issued by the Bishops-Ulama Conference, which is composed of 23 Catholic bishops, 18 Protestant bishops and pastors, and 24 Muslim Ulama members, the religious leaders urged the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front "to return as soon as possible to the negotiating table and resume talks through peaceful and respectful dialogue." "It is our firm belief that dialogue, however long and tedious, is the only human and humane way of resolving human issues and problems," the statement said. During the 13th exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur last month, the government and the MILF failed to resolve the territory issue, the last remaining strand in the contentious ancestral domain agenda. The BUC said they and the people have waited with interest the results of the peace negotiations since these started and that they were dismayed these went into a deadlock. Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla, Bishop Hilario Gomez of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, and Mahid Mutilan, president of the Ulama League of the Philippines, signed the document. The statement noted that while BUC do not claim exclusive monopoly of moral and spiritual wisdom, the group believed that looking again at the bone of contention from the moral and spiritual point of views, the peace negotiators may find a breakthrough towards a mutually agreed solution. "We know that such moral and spiritual insight is found somewhere in the collective and religious consciousness of our tri-people in Mindanao who are believers in the Almighty who guides our destiny. In the search for that wisdom and insight we wish to offer our services," the group said. In offering their services, the group quoted a verse of the Holy Bible. "Therefore, everyone who listens to those words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock." (Matthew 7:24). They also cited words from the Holy Qur'an, "Which then is the best? - he that layeth his foundation on piety to God and His Good pleasure?- or he that layeth his foundation on an undermined sand-cliff ready to crumble to pieces? And it doth crumble to pieces with him, into the fire of Hell. And God guideth not people that do wrong (Surah 9:109). Meanwhile, government trade leaders in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said the impasse in the negotiations is affecting investors' confidence in the island. Ishak Mastura, Department of Trade and Industry secretary, said businessmen, when they decide to invest or not, look at the risks of the location. "The uncertainty of the resolution of the peace talks due to the impasse is surely the biggest risk for investors now. The threat of war or renewed hostilities will make investors think twice about investing in Mindanao," he said.

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