FORMAL peace talks between the Philippine government and the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front) will resume this month, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd said on Wednesday.
He expressed confidence that an agreement will be hammered out to put an end to 47 years of armed conflict that had left thousands of people dead and hundreds of millions in property destroyed.
Bello, head of the government peace panel, disclosed that their counterpart wanted the peace negotiations held from July 16-19 in Oslo, Norway, but they made a counter-proposal of July 23-25 so that they would be kept informed on the message of President Rodrigo Duterte in in his first State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) on the fourth Monday of July, which falls on the 25th.
“Definitely, there will be a formal resumption of talks in July. In fairness to our third party facilitator, it will be held in Norway,” he said.
Topping the agenda, according to Bello, is a “ceasefire” agreement, and after that they would go back to three remaining issues.
“First, we might consider talking about ceasefire [and]then go back to the three remaining issues. But instead of sequential consideration, we are considering proposing to them that the last three remaining issues should be done simultaneously so that we can fast-track [the discussion],” he said.
Among the contentious issues that need to be resolved is a long-standing demand of the communist group to release what it calls political prisoners.
Bello gave no details on the other two issues.
The last time the two panels met was in February 2011 but they failed to agree on many issues, including the release of detained communist leaders and members, which the CPP-NPA-NDF said was a violation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig).
The Jasig protects all members of the communist peace panel from arrest for the duration of the peace negotiations.
Bello clarified that the communist panel was not setting any condition, saying “if the President will order a release [of the political prisoners], it’s a confidence-building measure and also in keeping with the provisions of Jasig.”
According to him, they would try their best to come up with a confidence-building measure even as he assured that everything would pass through the judicial process.
“They were mentioning 20 or 21 [names]. They are saying that these are their consultants, some of them are security officers, some of them are just messengers. Now, we will validate and then as soon as we validate that they really participate in peace negotiations, then we will recommend to the President that they be given temporary liberty so that they can participate in the negotiations,” Bello said.
He added that there are more than 500 communist rebels held in government detention centers, including NPA leaders Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma, Allan Jasmines and a dozen other NDF peace consultants.
The communist leadership is also asking for the release on humanitarian grounds of some 100 old and sickly members, many of them in jail for more than 15 years.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) earlier opposed the release of the political prisoners but said it has to obey if President Rodrigo Duterte decides to free them.
The AFP noted that the NDF had repeatedly used the same ploy, demanding the release of political prisoners, but later on abandoned the peace negotiations.
Accrording to NDF Chairman Luis Jalandoni, Benito Tiamzon is holder of ID No. ND978227, while Wilma, whose maiden surname is Austria, is holder of ID No.ND978226.
As such, Jalandoni noted, the Tiamzons are entitled to the safety and immunity guarantees as provided under the Jasig for the duration of the peace negotiations, which, in effect, provides them with safe conduct and passage or immunity from arrest.