‘WHERE THEY BELONG’. Despite the one day delay, the peace panels of the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines are back on the table to formally commence the fourth round of talks at the Radisson Blu Palace Hotel on Monday, Apr.3, 2017. Royal Norwegian Special Envoy Elisabeth Slattum congratulate both Parties who are “back where they belong.” (Zea Io Ming C. Capistrano/davaotoday.com)

NOORDWIJK AAN ZEE, The Netherlands — A series of informal talks that lasted for about a day of delay finally pulled off its trick to bring the negotiators of the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines back to the negotiating table.

The fourth round of the formal talks opened around 10 am Monday (4 pm Philippine time), a day late as scheduled after President Rodrigo Duterte issued his conditions before proceeding the formal talks with the communists.

Prior to the scheduled opening of the talks on Sunday, Duterte talked to government peace panels to give his “final guidance”.

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza, during his opening speech, said Duterte called them again “a few minutes” before the start of the opening program.

GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III would later tell reporters in an interview that Duterte’s aim is to have peace in the country.

“Basta ang sinabi niya maliwanag gusto niya kapayapaan sa bansa at kailangan gawin niyo lahat para makamit natin ang kapayapaan, which according to him is his legacy to our country (His message was clear, that he wants peace in the country and that the panel must do all it can to achieve peace, which according to him is his legacy to our country),” Bello said.

Among Duterte’s conditions, which he reiterated in his speech on Sunday, April 2 in Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines, is to have a signed document on a bilateral ceasefire. The other three conditions were: 1) the communists should stop collecting revolutionary tax, 2) the communists must not claim a part of the country as its territory, and 3) that the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines must release their prisoners of war.

Despite the delay, Dureza said they are confident that the talks can move “dramatically.”

“This is the farthest point that we have already achieved in our negotiations with the CPP-NPA- NDF,” Dureza said.

He said the Parties seem to be “sharing common values and common aspirations for a better Philippines.”

NDFP more interested in CASER

The fourth round of talks will discuss the bilateral ceasefire agreement and the more substantive agenda of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, dubbed “the heart and soul” of the peace process, which the NDFP is more interested in, said NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison.

“The NDFP is most interested in the soonest possible forging of the (CASER) to respond to the people’s demand for substantive reforms. By its own public pronouncement, the GRP is most interested in obtaining a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the NDFP,” he said.

Sison reiterated that a bilateral ceasefire agreement is possible if President Duterte can put forward the amnesty and release of all political prisoners identified by the NDFP. He said both Parties can validate and bind declarations of unilateral ceasefire as the interim bilateral ceasefire agreement in the Joint Statement after this round of talks “pending the forging of a single joint ceasefire agreement.”

He said compared to the interim bilateral ceasefire agreement, the joint ceasefire agreement is “more elaborate and more stable.”

Same basic problems

NDFP peace panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili said they are determined to push and accelerate the negotiations and hopes to forge an agreement on social and economic reforms by the end of this year.

He said the same basic problems of “poverty, inequity, injustice, oppression” hound the new generation of Filipinos.

Agcaoili noted that the “resilience of the NPA” proves the failure of the system and the past administrations governments to address the roots of the armed conflict.

The NPA, founded in 1969, celebrated its 48th founding anniversary just four days before the fourth round of talks under the Duterte administration.

Common ground

Bello said despite the challenges, there is no reason for the Parties not to find “that common ground.”

“After all negotiations, as in other peace processes elsewhere, is all about finding common ground in diversity,” he said.

Bello stressed that forging a ceasefire agreement “is not about giving in or giving up, it is about giving all for peace.”

“This is the covenant of President Duterte to our people and as peace workers ourselves, we should be one with him,” he said.

Bello also said that the government peace panel will “not fall into the indifference that beset past negotiations.”

Tough crisis

Norwegian Special Envoy to the GRP-NDFP Peace Process Elisabeth Slattum also congratulated both Panels and President Duterte “for working through a tough crisis, and for showing perseverance, courage and genuine commitment to the achievement of peace for the benefit of the Filipino people.”

“We made it, we are back where we belong at the negotiating tables,” Slattum said.

She said the Parties will face new crisis and challenges as the peace process continue but she said they must “focus on the end goal, which is peace.”

The peace talks was stalled on February 4 after President Duterte ordered its termination. Duterte made the decision when the CPP Central Committee and the NPA National Operations Command lifted its unilateral ceasefire declaration which took effect on February 10.

Duterte condemned the attacks against the soldiers which the communists said were defensive actions. The CPP said the ceasefire has been used by government troops to encroach their territories and conduct military operations in communities.

An all out war was also declared against the NPA which resulted to a number of casualties from both sides, including civilians.(davaotoday.com)

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