Joma terror delisting, free land distribution among agreements in third round of talks

ROME, Italy—The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and government negotiators are set to end their third round of formal talks today on a successful note with advances on the substantive agenda and new goodwill measures included in the prospective Rome Joint Statement.

NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili and his Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) counterpart Silvestre Bello III said their joint statement will include the signing of the supplemental guidelines on the Joint Monitoring Committee as well as agreements on the ground rules for future negotiations on socio-economic and political and constitutional reforms.

They also agreed to hold a special meeting in The Netherlands in February 22 or 24 to discuss the GRP proposal for a bilateral ceasefire.

“This round is turning out to be a success, despite the apparent sabotage with the killing of the activists in Negros Occidental and Surigao del Norte and the attack on the NPA (New People’s Army) encampment in North Cotabato,” Agcaoili said.

Joma Sison delisting

Bello for his part revealed that the joint statement shall include a request to the United States of America (USA) that NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison be delisted from its terror list.

“We have a basis (for such request), considering he is in the process, the peace talks, which negates the character of a terrorist,” Bello said.

Bello said it is important for Sison to be able to travel outside of Europe in response to GRP President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement he is willing to meet his former professor in any neutral Asian country.

NDFP panel member Benito Tiamzon and consultant Wilma Austria welcomed the move saying it would help in the negotiations.

“We have long been saying that the revolutionary movement, the Communist Party of the Philippines, the NPA, most especially Prof. Sison are not terrorists,” Tiamzon said.

“It is also important that President Duterte is saying he is independent of the US and this is one concrete step showing he really is independent,” Tiamzon added.

Sison has yet to issue a statement on the development.

Painstaking SER negotiations

NDFP socio-economic reforms Reciprocal Working Committee (RWC) spokesperson and agrarian and rural development focal person Randall Echanis said their bilateral meetings with their GRP counterparts have taken a few steps forward.

“For the first time, the GRP has submitted a comprehensive draft and we have agreed that both our drafts would be discussed with a matrix comparing both versions,” Echanis said.

Echanis also said that the Preamble and Declaration of Principles mostly based on the NDFP draft has already been agreed upon by the Reciprocal Workings Committees (RWC).

“We have identified commonalities on the Bases, Scope and Applicability provisions of our respective drafts and these are three important parts that our bilateral negotiations have disposed with,” Echanis said.

Echanis also revealed that the GRP has agreed in principle that there should be free land distribution to farmers, subject to consultations with other government agencies.

“We are for free land distribution while the GRP is for land distribution at least cost to the farmers.  We met halfway by saying the compensation should not come from the farmers but from the government,” he said.

“They said the NDFP draft’s use of the word of ‘confiscation’ is unconstitutional.  We clarified that land grabbed with use of violence and intimidation should be confiscated without compensation but we have no question with just compensation for landlords whose land was accumulated through just means,” Echanis clarified.

Echanis said the NDFP had been meeting GRP halfway in their negotiations as long as the essence and principle of agrarian reform is not compromised.

The closing ceremony of the third round is expected to be held at three o’clock local time (nine o’clock in the evening, Philippine time).

The fourth round of NDFP-GRP formal peace talks shall be held in April in Oslo, Norway. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)