CASER to be tackled most at third round of talks

ROME, Italy–The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have approved a common agenda of the third round of formal negotiations.

Hours before the formal opening of the talks to be held for the first time in this ancient city, both panels met and agreed to spend five days of negotiations starting today until January 25 with a break on Sunday, January 22.

The opening ceremony of the biggest formal talks ever in terms of delegation sizes will be held at ten o’clock local time (five o’clock Philippine time). The GRP has a 70-member delegation while the NDFP has 50.

Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) Special Envoy to the Philippine Peace Process Elisabeth Slattum and RNG Ambassador to the Philippines Erik Forner shall open the talks.

GRP Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison, GRP Negotiating Panel Chairperson Silvestre Bello III and NDFP Negotiating Panel Chairperson Fidel Agcaoili shall take turns delivering their opening remarks.

In the afternoon, a panel to panel meeting shall be held to discuss the releases of 393 political prisoners, the general amnesty issue for the detainees, and the unilateral and bilateral ceasefires.

On the second day, January 20, both panels as well as their respective committee members shall discuss Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) issues.

The Joint Monitoring Committee on the CARHRIHL shall also be convened for the fourth time under the Rodrigo Duterte presidency.

Negotiations on the most substantial agenda of the peace process, the prospective Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER, shall commence on the afternoon of the second day.

The NDFP and GRP shall first attempt to approve ground rules on the conduct of CASER negotiations before tackling their respective drafts.

The NDFP reportedly has a 100-page draft while the GRP is ready with its 46-page draft.  It is the first time that the GRP is ready with a detailed CASER proposal since the September 1, 1992 signing of The Hague Joint Declaration.

The third day of the negotiations on January 21 shall be spent on CASER negotiations.  Political and constitutional reforms (PCR) discussions shall also commence on Saturday afternoon.

Both panels also agreed to hold a joint press conference on the progress of the talks at four thirty in the afternoon.

Formal negotiations shall take a break on Sunday, January 22, but some negotiators from both panels are expected to attend a rally chiefly organized by Migrante-Italy on Sunday morning.

(Read: Migrants ready for GRP-NDFP talks)

Both parties shall each hold workshops on Day Five, January 23. The GRP has organized the Workshop on Public Buy-In of the Peace Process with international experts in the morning while the NDFP shall have its own workshop in the afternoon.

The panels shall again take up CASER and PCR negotiations as formal negotiations resume on the morning of Day Six, January 24, while the afternoon shall be spent discussing unfinished business.

Reciprocal working committees on various agenda and issues shall then report to their respective panels.

The GRP and the NDFP shall discuss their joint statement on the morning of Day Seven, January 25, which would be signed and presented at a closing ceremony in the afternoon.

Thieves victimize GRP staff, journalist

Meanwhile, a gang of thieves ran away with gadgets, travel documents and credit cards that belonged to a GRP delegate and a Europe-base Filipino journalist.

The thieves loitered at the hotel lobby while delegates from both parties were checking in at the Holiday Inn Eur Parco de Medici (venue of the talks) and took off with bags belonging to Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process communications staff Edwin Espejo and ABS-CBN Europe Bureau chief Dani Buenafe.

Espejo was busy assisting other GRP delegates who are checking in while Buenafe was conducting interviews when their bags were stolen.

Espejo lost professional cameras and lenses, a laptop as well as his passport while Buenafe lost a wristwatch and credit cards.

Some GRP and NDFP delegates ran after the thieves but failed to catch up with them.  Italian hotels do not have security guards.

Espejo declined to comment on the incident. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)


Copy of approved agenda, page 1. (Photo courtesy of OPAPP)

Copy of approved agenda, page 2. (Photo courtesy of OPAPP)