The negotiating panels of the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) have agreed on an accelerated timetable for the peace talks, boosting hopes that a peace agreement will be signed by next year.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said both parties approved the timetable drafted by the Reciprocal Working Committee (RWC) and Reciprocal Working Groups (RWG) on the third day of peace negotiations in Oslo, Norway.
“We commend the RWC and RWGs of both panels for working hand-in-hand and agreeing on a fixed timetable for the substantive agenda in record time,” said Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd, concurrent chairman of the government peace panel.
Bello said it took the panels only 30 minutes to come up with the agreement.
“It was really morale-boosting for both panels,” he added.
Both parties also agreed to complete the work on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) in six months.
The CASER tackles issues such as agrarian reform, national industrialization and foreign policy.
Efren Moncupa, a human rights lawyer and former political detainee, leads the government’s RWC on CASER while his counterpart from the NDF is Juliet de Lima-Sison.
According to Bello, the CASER is the “heart and soul” of the peace negotiations and it will determine the outcome of the talks.
“This committee will work on the most important issue: how to address the root causes of conflict in the Philippines in order to attain just and lasting peace. The sooner CASER is wrapped up, the better for the peace negotiations,” he said.
“Fast-tracking discussions on CASER means accelerating the process of seeking political settlement with the NDF and ending almost half a century of armed conflict with communist guerillas,” he added.
The Working Committees on CASER will hold their first meeting in October 2016.
Bello said the simultaneous discussions of the substantive agenda will allow the government to meet its self-imposed deadline of forging a final peace agreement with the NDF in a year’s time.
“We are right on schedule and the talks are proceeding smoothly. We expect a final peace agreement after one year so we can devote five more years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term in implementing the reforms agreed upon by both parties,” he said.
Meanwhile, Duterte asked government forces to be “friendly” with communist rebels during the duration of a ceasefire declared days before the start of the peace talks in Oslo.
The President said he was joining the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in its desire “to seek peace for this nation.”
“I am ordering the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, we have to avoid hostile actions against each other,” the President said.
“We do not go into any antagonistic behavior in front of whoever and as a matter of fact, I am encouraging people in government, the military and the police to be friendly with the forces of the revolutionary government of the Communist Party of the Philippines,” he added.
He reiterated that as president, his “main task” is to bring peace to all Filipino people, especially the Moro people.
“It pains me deeply to see people dying for an ideology. We can talk about it peacefully, just like now,” Duterte said.