Former justice secretary Silvestre Bello III is “greatly honored” to again be the Philippine government’s chief negotiator with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
While clarifying that he still needs to be formally notified by Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Bello said that he is keen on accepting the challenge again to talk peace with the NDFP.
Bello said that the congratulatory messages that he has been receiving since Duterte made the announcement in Davao City this afternoon are still premature.
“I still have to ask our future president the extent of power he will grant the new government negotiating panel,” Bello said.
Critical of the Benigno Aquino government’s peace negotiations style with the NDFP, Bello said he will push for honoring signed agreements between the Manila government and the rebel groups.
“Who would seriously negotiate with us if we fail to honor our commitments?” Bello asked.
Aquino’s peace adviser Teresita Deles called The Hague Joint Declaration (THJD) that laid the parameters of the peace negotiations between the NDFP and the Manila government as a “document of perpetual division.”
Deles also taunted the NDFP whenever the latter demanded the release of its peace consultants under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees or Jasig.
Both THJD and Jasig were milestone agreements hammered with Bello as key member of the government panels under former President Fidel Ramos.
“I think President Aquino was only interested in negotiating with Moro Islamic Liberation Front. He did not have the same vigor in dealing with the NDFP,” Bello said.
Bello also said that he will push for the release of NDFP peace consultants.
“If it can be established that they are involved in the negotiations either as consultants, staff or security personnel, they should be released under the Jasig,” Bello said.
Bello said he is thinking of asking former Commission on Elections commissioner Rene Sarmiento, former Alaminos mayor Hernani Braganza and Atty Sedfrey Candelaria of the Ateneo de Manila University to join him as negotiating panel members.
NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison welcomed Duterte’s reappointment of Bello as chief negotiator.
“I think that Bebot Bello is an excellent choice of the (incoming) President as chief negotiator with the NDFP,” Sison said.
“We know him because we worked with him in producing major agreements, especially the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Carhrihl),” Sison added.
Sison said that the NDFP welcomes Bello’s statement that all the existing agreements must be respected and the possible release of all the 562 political prisoners who have been imprisoned on false charges of common crimes.
The rebel leader also commended Bello in seeking from the president (Duterte) the widest latitude for the success of the peace negotiations.
Asked to comment on possible panel members Bello mentioned, Sison said that it is up to him to compose his panel.
“He has mentioned highly qualified prospects,” Sison said of Sarmiento, Braganza and Candelaria.
Bello said that he hopes that the root causes of the armed conflict will again be addressed in the negotiations.
“Being able to sign agreements with the NDFP is one thing, but real success would come only when our people’s extreme poverty and the perception that our government is corrupt are eliminated,” Bello said. (Raymund B Villanueva)