THE NEGOTIATING panels of the Philippine government and communist rebels have agreed on three major issues in the ongoing peace talks in Oslo, Norway, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said on Wednesday.
The statement said the peace panels took only four hours, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., to settle the three substantive issues, including a formal commitment to accelerate the process of forging a political settlement during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Only two of the five issues remain unresolved—the mode of interim ceasefire and amnesty proclamation for the release of all detained political prisoners, but these would be negotiated on Thursday, said Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd, head of government peace panel.
“It was a frank and honest discussion among friends. We are candid with each other, knowing that we share the common agenda of peace,” Bello was quoted as saying.
He noted that there were heated discussions during negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
“But the general atmosphere was cordial as the session was punctuated by laughter and light banter,” Bello added.
He said all agreements signed during the time of President Corazon Aquino up to the present were re-affirmed “subject to enhancements that may be mutually agreed upon later by both panels.”
“We may need these enhancements in the future as we do not want to be tied down by the rigidity of the past. Learning from mistakes of the previous negotiations, we want to explore all options to move the process fast forward,” Bello said.
The agreements that were re-affirmed include The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992, the Breukelen Joint Statement of 1994, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees or JASIG, and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
To accelerate the pace of peace negotiations, both panels agreed to activate the Reciprocal Working Committee (RWC) on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms, as well as the Reciprocal Working Groups (RWGs) on Political and Constitutional Reforms and End of Hostilities-Disposition of Forces.
Bello said that the RWC and the RWGs will hold simultaneous discussions on substantive issues separate from formal meetings being scheduled at the panel level.
“RWC and the RWGs may hold discussions on their own at the venue of their choice. We agreed that all RWC meetings will be held in Oslo, but RWG discussions may be held in the Philippines,” he said.
Bello said both panels also agreed to try to complete discussions on socioeconomic reforms within six months.
On JASIG, he noted that both panels agreed to reconstitute the NDF list of consultants who will be immune from arrest so they can participate in the peace process.
The NDF leaders informed the government panel that the list will contain the names of 54 consultants classified as “publicly known” and the “assumed names” of 87 guerrilla leaders, Bello said.