OSLO, Norway — The second round of the peace talks between the government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines started here at 6:25 pm (12:25 am October 7, PH time), with almost a hundred delegates from both panels, facilitators from the Royal Norwegian Government and members of the media filling up the conference room at the Holmenfjord Hotell.
Like the first round of talks held in August, panel members of the government and the NDF filled the room exchanging banter and easy camarederie in a ceremony facilitated by RNG Special Envoy Elisabeth Slattum, and the presence of Marianne Hille, senior adviser Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Delegates recognized the contribution of former NDF chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni with a standing ovation during the opening. Jalandoni was replaced by Fidel Agcaoili as head of the NDFP negotiating panel in an announcement made by the NDF yesterday.
NDF still optimistic
NDF chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said he is optimistic that the results of the negotiations will be fruitful.
“The most important thing is that the two sides always bear in mind the national and democratic interests of the Filipino people as a common point of reference. Thus, despite of differences and certain respects I’m sure that, in general, we can conduct non-adversarial negotiations and a thought-up win-win situation,” Sison said.
He said he is confident because of the determination of both parties to carry out the peace negotiations within “one to two years”.
He said although that it “remains to be seen” how fast the parties can achieve an agreement, he said it can be concluded within one year.
Sison also cited the openness of President Rodrigo Duterte to the principles and policies of the NDF unlike past administrations.
He said based on their assessment of Duterte’s first 100 days “the leading patriotic and progressive organizations have made a conclusion that the Duterte government is doing well.”
“One of the strong points of the Duterte government is of course the accelerated process of the peace negotiations,” he said.
Amnesty for political prisoners
Meanwhile, both Sison and Agcaoili brought up the issue of rendering justice to political prisoners in their opening statements.
Sison described granting an amnesty to political prisoners as “a strong incentive for the accelerated peace process.”
He added that this will also give “a more stable bilateral ceasefire until we come to the last comprehensive agreement in the end of hostilities and disposition of forces.”
“We on the side of NDF hope that the grant of amnesty to all the political prisoners, that would be an effective and immediate way of rendering justice to those who have been unjustly incarcerated through the multiplication of trumped up charges and common crimes,” Sison said.
For his part, Agcaoili said the resolution of the issue on the release of the political prisoners will allow the parties to “move forward”.
He clarified that the amnesty proclamation refers to the political prisoners “and not to a general amnesty that is mutually extended to the forces of both parties in the final settlement of an armed conflict.”
“We should not muddle these two amnesty concepts, lest we be accused of intending to make use of the political prisoners as a leverage or hostage to secure advantage across the negotiating table or to demand capitulation of one side by another.”
As of August 31, human rights group Karapatan recorded 415 political prisoners.
Role of lawmakers
Presidential peace adviser Secretary Jesus Dureza introduced six lawmakers who will be observing the peace talks from October 6 to October 10.
The House delegation is led by Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra A. Sema, Chairman of the Peace and Reconciliation Committee Rep. Ruby Sahali, Senior Vice Chairman Rep. Jesus Sacdalan, Vice Chairman and Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Carlos Zarate, member Rep. Nancy Catamco who is also the chairman of the committee on indigenous and cultural communities, and member Rep. Leopoldo Bataouil who also serves as the chairman of the veterans affairs committee.
Dureza said whatever outcomes the negotiations will have “we’ll have to go to Congress.”
“And we don’t have to see what happened to the previous agreements that were signed that never saw the day of light in Congress,” he said.
Dureza said with the participation of lawmakers, the parties are assured of the “implementing mechanism” that Congress will approve.
Dureza said the parties will not stop until a final peace agreement is achieved.
In 12 months
GRP panel chairman and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said the completion of the peace negotiations in the next 12 months “will provide ample time for the Duterte administration to efficiently implement the agreements” reached by the two parties.
The three major issues that were settled during the first round of talks include: 1) Affirmation of previously-signed agreements; 2) Reconstitution of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) list; and 3) Accelerated process for negotiations, including the timeline for the completion of the remaining substantive agenda for the talks: socio-economic reforms; political and economic reforms; and end of hostilities and disposition of forces, including the Joint Monitoring Committee.
Bello also stressed that the ceasefire is “still holding until this day with no major violations reported by either party.”
“This is an unparalleled achievement of the table which should inspire us to advance the negotiations,” he said.
Slattum, in an earlier statement emailed to Davao Today said they, too, are confident that a positive outcome will be achieved in this round of talks.
“We expect challenging discussions on substantive issues in the days to come. But we are confident that this round will be productive and have a positive outcome,” she said. (davaotoday.com)