Laughter and banter dominate GRP-NDFP talks opening

OSLO, Norway—Laughter and banter dominated the opening ceremony of the resumption of formal peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) earlier today.

Highlighting the long-standing acquaintance and even friendship between members of the current GRP panel and their veteran NDFP counterparts, each panel heaped praises on the party across the table as well as on the Royal Norwegian Government representatives who are facilitating the talks.

NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison in his opening statement said President Rodrigo Duterte is instrumental in the resumption of formal talks.

“He (Duterte) has offered more hope in the success and advance of the peace process than the previous presidents (of the GRP) and regimes,” Sison said.

Sison said his former student understands and appreciates the programs and principles of the national democratic revolution and could forge a just and lasting peace for the Filipino people by addressing the root causes of the armed conflict.

“He has done well in choosing a capable peace adviser and patriotic and capable negotiators,” Sison added, which drew appreciative laughter from both sides of the room.

Not to be outdone, GRP negotiating panel chairperson Silvestre Bello further enlivened the usually formalistic peace talks opening ceremonies by addressing NDFP’s Fidel Agcaoili as “manong” (elder brother), Asterio Palima as “mister”, Coni Ledesma as “ma’am” and Julieta de Lima as “manang” (elder sister), insinuating all the members of the NDFP panel were older than him.

The NDFP panel light-heartedly protested Bello’s kidding honorific.

More laughter followed when he praised Norwegian’s Special Envoy Elizabeth Slattum’s “disarming charm” in bringing the parties to the negotiating table.

Soft-spoken NDFP chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni himself deviated from his prepared speech by describing the Norwegian team of facilitators led by Slattum as efficient, hardworking, and very charming.

GRP negotiator Hernani Braganza then quipped, “Ayaw magpatalo,” to which NDFP negotiator Fidel Agcaoili replied, “Akala niyo kayo lang ha. Kami, team!

The laughter and ribbing that followed lasted several seconds.

 “No matter what”

In between banters however, each party challenged the other to unite with them to achieve peace made possible by the renewed and fresh euphoria among the Filipino people.

“We may not have this kind of opportunity again in our own lifetimes to make this through.  So let us all stay the course, no matter what,” Dureza said.

Sison for his part outlined what he thinks would make the peace negotiations worthy of the hopes of the “suffering Filipino people.”

Sison said the Filipino people can benefit from bourgeois-democratic reforms through the assertion of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, abrogation of unequal treaties and agreements, the democratic empowerment of the working people, social justice, economic development through national industrialization and land reform, expanded free public education, a patriotic and progressive kind of culture, international solidarity of all peoples and trade and diplomatic relations with all countries.

“The expressed socialist and democratic aspirations of President Duterte can be accomplished only if preceded by such reforms,” Sison said.

Migrants for peace

Representatives of Migrante-Europe took part in the opening ceremony by presenting to both the GRP and NDFP panels their peace agenda.

The group expressed high hopes that the resumption of the negotiations will advance forward in addressing the root causes of the civil war in the Philippines – extreme poverty, unemployment, inequality, underdevelopment, elite politics, government corruption and political repression.

“As overseas Filipinos, we also hope that the peaceful resolution of these root causes will pave the way to our long-awaited homecoming in order to contribute to nation-building,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva, Kodao Productions)