Peace talks between the Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front/Communist Party of the Philippines/New Peoples Army (NDF/CPP/NPA) will not be derailed by the hero’s burial for former President Ferdinand Marcos, government chief negotiator and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd said on Tuesday.
Bello noted that while the NDF is opposed to the recently concluded hero’s burial for Marcos, the release of political prisoners including couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon is enough to build confidence between the two parties.
“The release of the political prisoners showed the sincerity of the President. For the first time in history, the NDF is willing to agree to a ceasefire. In the past, they would never even discuss ceasefire because to them, it is as good as capitulation,” he pointed out.
“The President showed sincerity and immediately expressed willingness to talk to them, so those are indeed confidence-building [initiatives]. I don’t think the burial of a strongman is enough to affect the peace process. It is of little significance,” Bello said.
The NDF/CPP/NPA as well as President Duterte’s Makabayan bloc allies from Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Anakpawis and Kabataan party-list that support the peace process with communist rebels are opposed to the hero’s burial, citing Marcos’ martial law regime that left at least 75,000 victims of torture and extrajudicial killings, on top of ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses estimated at $10 billion.
“This should not affect their long association. It is normal that they [from the communist side and their allies]would express their indignation, especially among the victims of human rights violations and enforced disappearances. We expected them to be emotional, but this should not distract us from the peace negotiation. We have a more noble and significant mandate for our country, a just and lasting peace,” Bello said.
“We can’t block the flow of the peace process because of an incident like this which has been decided by the Supreme Court. Yes, the President said he is in favor of it, but the Supreme Court has decided and we have to follow it. The Supreme Court is supreme in the interpretation of the law, in the same vein that the President is supreme in the implementation of the law,” he added.
Bello was referring to the Supreme Court decision junking the petitions against the hero’s burial for Marcos via a 9 to 5 vote.
He, admitted that both parties are unlikely to sign a permanent ceasefire pact by the initial deadline of December 10 because the parties are yet to agree on conditions that constitute a hostile act.
“We are yet to come up with conditions on what can be considered a hostile act. There are a lot of ramifications… like, for example, is their [communist rebels’]collection of the revolutionary tax a hostile act? Madugo ‘yan [It’s bloody],” he said.
“We really wanted to have a consensus on a ceasefire by December 10, which is also International Human Rights Day, but we are not sure if we can beat that deadline. Still, we are not giving up on signing a joint and permanent ceasefire agreement that would lead to cessation of hostilities,” Bello added.
He allayed fears that the military is not happy about the government’s engagement with the communist rebels.
Bello said there are members of the military who are even part of various government negotiating panels on implementing human rights and international humanitarian law and ceasefire monitoring, among others.