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)

GRP ‘preconditions’ and ‘creeping nationwide martial rule’ set back talks–CPP

NOORDWIJK AAN ZEE, The Netherlands—The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) blamed the Rodrigo Duterte government for the cancellation of the fifth round of formal negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), saying the setback is Manila government’s sole responsibility.

The Government of the Republic of the Philippines’ (GRP) decision not to participate in the fifth round of talks was brought about by its all-out war and martial law, the CPP in a statement said.

The group said the GRP demanded that the NPA silence its guns while “AFP’s (Armed Forces of the Philippines) cannons, bombs and heavy gunfire thunder against the people.”

The CPP said the GRP Negotiating Panel “imposed unnecessary, last-minute and unacceptable preconditions for talks to proceed.”

It added the GRP’s decision has effectively derailed and set back negotiations on a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER).

The CPP said the GRP insisted that the NDFP sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement prior to the negotiations on any other substantive agreement and the CPP recall its declaration to the NPA to carry out more military offensives in the face of its own all-out war and imposition of martial law in Mindanao.

Such demands have become increasingly counterproductive, the underground organization said.

Creeping nationwide martial rule

The group explained its order for more tactical offensives against GRP forces was merely a response to defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s statement the NPA may be a target of the GRP’s martial law imposition.

The CPP said it heard the retraction by Defense Secretary Lorenzana that martial law in Mindanao is not directed against the NPA but said it was “empty and self-contradicted by his consequent order for the military to go against the NPA for its ‘illegal activities’.”

The group said that even as Duterte’s martial law declaration covers only Mindanao, all GRP military units and police forces have gone on red or full alert in North Luzon, Central Luzon, the National Capital Region, Bicol Region, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Negros and Panay.

“They have imposed their threatening armed presence in public places, parked tanks in government offices and roadsides. Checkpoints have been set up as well in Tacloban City on the utterly ridiculous reason of ‘solidarity with martial law in Mindanao,’” the CPP said.

“The Party joins the people in denouncing the creeping nationwide martial rule,” it added.

Norwegian government still supportive of the peace process

Meanwhile, Elisabeth Slattum, Royal Norwegian Government Special Envoy to the Philippine Peace Process said her government remains committed to their support of the peace negotiations.

“It is very unfortunate that this round of formal talks could not take place as scheduled. But it is important to remember that all peace processes go through difficult times,” Slattum told reporters after the cancellation announcements.

“What defines a successful peace process is not the absence of crises but the ability of the parties to overcome them and push through,” she said, adding she witnessed how the negotiating panels showed “great dedication and commitment to these peace negotiations.”

“It is important to specify that although this fifth round of formal talks will not take place, the peace talks have not been cancelled and the peace process remains intact. Norway is very hopeful that the parties will be able to return to the negotiating table very soon,” Slattum said.# (Raymund B. Villanueva/Featured photo by Viory Schellekens)