Bello announces possible resumption of talks in August

Formal peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) may resume on the second or third week of August, government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III said.

In a Malacañan press briefing today, Bello said he met Sunday night with NDFP counterpart Fidel Agcaoili that resulted in an “initial understanding” the cancelled fifth round of talks will probably be realized next month.

Bello said the possible resumption of the talks has the blessings of GRP President Rodrigo Duterte.

He added that the fifth round of talks would focus on socioeconomic reforms.

The parties’ reciprocal working committees on socioeconomic reforms were supposed to submit new agreements to the negotiating panels at the cancelled fifth round in The Netherlands last May.

Bello also revealed that both parties have agreed to hold an informal meeting on the third or last week of this month but have yet to decide if it would be held in Japan, Hong Kong or the Philippines.

“The parties will have an informal meeting so that come August, it (the agenda) would already be clear. And (the reciprocal working committee agreements) will only be for submission for the formal approval of the panels,” Bello said.

Interim unilateral ceasefire

Bello also said the informal talks this month and the fifth round of formal talks in August may also tackle the issue of an interim unilateral ceasefire in a bid to create a more conducive atmosphere during the talks.

“It’s possible. Yun nga ang sinabi ko that informal meeting by the end of July we will be discussing interim unilateral ceasefire separately signed by both parties,” Bello said.

Bello said there are still issues that need to be resolved before a ceasefire could be agreed upon, such as the question of having adjudicators in case of ceasefire violations.

“One of the issues there would be, ‘Who would be the referee?’ Kung halimbawang may violations, saan ka tatakbo?” Bello said.

“It could be a joint monitoring team of the ceasefire,” he added.

Bello said the interim unilateral ceasefire could be in effect until a bilateral ceasefire is agreed upon.

Lorenzana says no

Bello’s announcement, however, runs counter to national defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s recommendation to the GRP panel not to resume formal peace negotiations with the NDFP just yet.

Lorenzana said he has recommended to the GRP panel to stop talking to the NDFP if they continue their attacks against government forces and alleged extortion activities, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) reported yesterday.

“I, for one, have already been talking with the GRP panel if it’s possible to stop talking for a while with the CPP as long as they can’t control the NPAs who conduct extortion activities, burning of private properties, and kidnappings,” the PDI report quoted Lorenzana saying.

In response to a question at the Malacañan press briefing today, however, Bello said NPA attacks are part of the armed conflict.

“The reality is that there is an existing armed conflict.  That is the reason why we are talking to end the armed conflict. So habang nag-uusap tayo, we expect some skirmishes once in a while,” Bello said.

The parties’ last unilateral ceasefire declarations from August of last year to February this year have been the longest truce in the history of the armed conflict between the GRP and the NDFP.

It unraveled, however, when GRP troops belonging to the 39th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army attacked a NPA encampment in Makilala, North Cotabato last January while the third round of formal talks was ongoing in Rome, Italy.

Before the Makilala attack, the NDFP has already accused the Armed Forces of the Philippines of further militarizing indigenous peoples and peasant communities that contributed to the decision of the Communist Party of the Philippines to suspend its unilateral ceasefire declaration by early February.

Meanwhile, the NDFP have yet to comment on Bello’s announcement. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)