GRP announces non-participation in fifth round of formal talks

NOORDWIJK AAN ZEE, The Netherlands—The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) has announced it will not participate in the fifth round of formal peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

In a press conference, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza and GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III said there are no clear indications that an enabling environment conducive for the formal talks to proceed has been achieved after two days of informal and backchannel negotiations.

“This is a temporary setback which has also happened in the past.  This only means we need to work harder on the peace process,” Bello said.

Dureza refused to explain their reasons and just asked the reporters present at the press briefing to report their statements “as stated.”

GRP negotiators, however, has repeatedly said earlier it wants the CPP to rescind its order to the NPA of intensified operations against government troops in light of defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s statement the rebel guerrillas are among the targets of President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law declaration over all of the Mindanao region.

“It would be a factor,” Dureza replied when asked if the GRP would resume formal peace negotiations in case the CPP complies to the demand.

Dureza and Bello said President Rodrigo Duterte is aware of the GRP panel’s decision.

In reply, NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said the cancellation of the fifth round was “GRP’s decision and responsibility.”

“Contrary to the GRP allegations, the NPA operations cannot be attributed to the failure of the CPP-NPA-NDFP leadership to control their ground forces.  Rather, they (CPP directives) are defensive and counter-offensive responses to the AFP provocative actions and offensive operations,” the NDFP, in a prepared statement, said.

The NDFP said the GRP is obscuring the fact that its forces “have been waging an ‘all-out-war’ against the NPA, conducting offensive operations and aerial bombings of communities regardless of ‘collateral damage’ – all on the direct and standing orders of President Duterte.”

Agcaoili said the GRP should consider stopping its all-out-war policy first before issuing “vague demands” to the NDFP.

Peace process to continue

The GRP said they are not terminating the entire peace process with the NDFP in their decision not to participate in the fifth round of talks.

The NDFP agreed with the GRP and said they expect their counterparts to respect previously-signed agreement such as the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law as well the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.

“We expect the GRP to respect the safety of our negotiators and consultants once they go home to the Philippines after this and as they go about their work as peace workers,” Agcaoili said.

Agcaoili also said they are willing to resume formal peace negotiations as soon as the GRP decides to go back to the negotiating table.

He also said the NDFP may seek an audience with President Duterte to seek clarifications in the near future.

“I would like to think that he (Duterte) still wants to sign a final peace agreement with the NDFP,” Agcaoili said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)