ROME: A third round of peace talks between the Philippines and communist rebels ended Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) with no deal on a permanent ceasefire the government had billed as its primary goal.
Both parties described a week of Norwegian-brokered negotiations on the outskirts of Rome as “successful” in a joint statement that was delayed by last-minute wrangling over wording.
In their statement, the parties noted that “their unilateral indefinite ceasefires remain in place,” but added that “there are issues and concerns related thereto.”
Despite the failure to tie down a permanent ceasefire after agreement on a temporary one in August, diplomats involved in bringing the two sides together said the latest discussions had been cordial and that efforts to bring the two sides closer to a deal had advanced.
Both parties agreed to meet for a fourth round of formal talks in Oslo on April 2 to 6. Officials dealing specifically with the ceasefire issue will meet again sooner, in Utrecht in the Netherlands on February 22 to 27.
The communist insurgency in the Philippines, launched in 1968, is one of the longest running in the world and has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives, according to the country’s military.
The government’s chief negotiator, Silvestre Bello, had voiced hopes at the beginning of the Rome talks that obstacles to a joint ceasefire agreement could be overcome during this round of talks.
They were held in Rome because one thing both sides could agree on was that Oslo in January was too cold for any kind of Philippine negotiation, a Norwegian source told AFP.
Malacanang also said on Thursday that the peace negotiations were gaining ground.
“The talks are moving forward and we are gaining ground and that the talks will not be hampered by any activities on the ground so to speak,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
He also dismissed the recent clash between soldiers and members of the New People’s Army, saying it had no effect on the peace process.
“The Palace understands that there is activity on the ground, that there’s also noise on the ground. However, based on the negotiating panel and based and the actions and agreements that have been formed, their talks continue forward. So we’re positive that things can be worked out,” he added.
Abella said the Palace also sees no reason for the United States to deny the request of the government to drop Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman Jose Maria “Joma” Sison from its terror list.
He said that delisting Sison from the US list was “aligned with the President’s wish to hold peace talks with the leadership of Communist Party of the Philippines.”
“The government maintains its position that there is no reason for the US to deny this request bearing in mind that Mr. Sison is part of the negotiating panel,” Abella said.
WITH A REPORT FROM CATHERINE S. VALENTE