KIDAPAWAN CITY: After a second round of talks in Norway, negotiators from the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), as well as observers, are eyeing the signing of a ceasefire agreement before the end of January.
A lawmaker who is observing the negotiations urged both parties in a forum on Saturday to work for the early signing of the agreement to allow full implementation during the Duterte administration and finally end the decades-long communist rebellion.
“We asked both parties to immediately ink the ceasefire agreement at the end of January to begin with the implementation in the following months under the time of present administration because we don’t want the next administration to perceive it wrongly and fail us,” North Cotabato Rep. Jesus Sacdalan said.
Sacdalan noted that the 1996 final peace agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was not fully implemented.
“It was not realized and until now we are signing never-ending agreements,” Sacdalan said.
“We saw disgruntled members of the MNLF that led to the splitting of its ranks, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),” he added.
If talks between the government and the NDFP fail, the lawmaker said, “I could see everyone going back in the mountains.”
Sacdalan, who represents an area in Cotabato composed of Muslims, Christians and Lumad, stressed that talks between the government and the NDFP were being pushed together with the continuation of the peace process with the MILF, which now includes the MNLF and other Muslim rebels.
On Saturday’s gathering, coordinated by Arnel Cipriano of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers-Cotabato, leaders and representatives of various sectors in Cotabato affirmed their support to peace negotiations.
Also present in the forum were lawyer Ria Corazon Lano, member of the government peace panel’s working committee, and NDFP consultants Porferio Tuna, Ariel Arbitrario and Eddie Genelza who were among “political prisoners” temporarily released from prison.
Inclusion of IPs sought
On Sunday, Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat called for the representation of indigenous peoples (IPs) in peace negotiations with communist and other rebel groups.
Baguilat, who is from the Ifugao and Gaddang tribes, made the call at the close of the IP month marked in October every year.
“IPs should be represented as an independent and co-equal party in the peace talks, while their needs should be top of mind when it comes to programs in Mindanao which President Duterte wants to fully develop during his term,” Baguilat said in a statement.
“Lumads have as much a right to historical justice and patrimony over their resources as their Muslim brothers and sisters,” Baguilat, former chairman of the House Committee on National Cultural Communities, added.
The lawmaker said that despite significant progress in advancing IP rights as evidenced by the passage of the IP Rights Act, much still needed to be done before IPs secure their right to self-determination.
“To this day, many IP groups are still harassed, and some are even killed because of their desire to take control of their ancestral domain. For peace to truly be just and sustainable, Lumad rights must be guaranteed in the peace talks,” Baguilat said.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI