Christmas ceasefires possible after ‘friendly’ back channel talks–Sison

Reciprocal unilateral ceasefires can be declared by both National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) forces and the Manila government during the Christmas season following successful “informal” talks between the NDFP and President Rodrigo Duterte’s envoys in The Netherlands last weekend.

NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison told Kodao in an online interview that they have proposed goodwill measures “in the spirit of Christmas and the New Year” during their meeting with labor secretary Silvestre Bello III and Hernani Braganza, Duterte’s envoys, last December 7 and 8.

The goodwill measures include the release on humanitarian grounds of sick and elderly political prisoners and the detained NDFP consultants as well as the declaration and implementation of reciprocal unilateral ceasefires, Sison said.

Sison said Bello promised to present the proposed measures with the President. Bello was supposed to have reported to Duterte Wednesday night.

 Sison added that another informal meeting may soon occur within the month to prepare for the formal meeting to resume the peace negotiations in the second or third week of January 2020 as Bello has earlier announced.

He said that such expectations are reasonable, “especially if the goodwill measures are carried out.”

A holiday truce, however, had been earlier opposed by the GRPs defense chief Delfin Lorenzana.

‘Peace saboteurs’

In a speech last December 9, Lorenzana rejected the idea of declaring a ceasefire with the New People’s Army (NPA) in the coming holidays.

“If there’s a ceasefire, the soldiers go back to their barracks because the operations are stopped. But the NPA are recruiting in the villages to increase their power,” Lorenzana said.

“Let us just not enter into a ceasefire,” Lorenzana said, adding there will be no let up in the conduct of intensified military operations against the NPA.

Sison slammed Lorenzana’s opposition to ceasefire declarations as “hostile and run counter to the wish of the GRP President and commander-in-chief to resume the peace negotiations.”

“The President should assert his political authority to overrule the militarists who wish to spoil or sabotage the efforts to resume the peace negotiations. Otherwise the peace negotiations cannot be resumed,” Sison said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Joma urges Duterte to undertake goodwill measures to revive talks

Goodwill measures from President Rodrigo Duterte may be the ticket for the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) to successfully revive formal peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), Jose Maria Sison said.

Invoking the spirit of yuletide, Sison said reciprocal unilateral ceasefires and the release of elderly and sickly political prisoners are good for the creation of a favorable atmosphere for peace negotiations.

“It is timely for the GRP and NDFP to celebrate with the Filipino people the season of Christmas and the New Year and to create the favorable atmosphere for peace negotiations by undertaking such goodwill measures,” Sison said.

Sison added that those who shall participate in the peace negotiations, obviously referring to jailed NDFP peace consultants, may be among those to be released early. 

The NDFP’s chief political consultant said the obstacles that ended the peace talks may be overcome by another reaffirmation of agreements forged between the parties since 1992.

These agreements, including The Hague Joint Declaration and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, outline the conduct and conditions of formal peace negotiations between the parties.

Successive GRP administrations, including Duterte’s, have sought to disregard the agreements in a repeated bid to convince NDFP negotiators to agree to hold the talks in the Philippines.

The NDFP, however, has consistently opposed the move as “dangerous”.

Sison said that he welcomes Duterte’s desire to resume the negotiations and instructions to former GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III to visit and consult him in The Netherlands.

He proposes that the NDFP and Bello set the agenda and schedule for the negotiations and to “fulfill political, legal and security requirements.”

He said the GRP and NDFP negotiating panels can pursue further negotiations on the Interim Peace Agreement, with its three components pertaining to coordinated unilateral ceasefires, general amnesty and release of all political prisoners.

The three components had been approved and signed in the presence of Norwegian third-party facilitators after four rounds of backchannel talks in May and June 2018.

Duterte, however, ordered his negotiators to abandon the formal round scheduled for June 28 of that year. 

Sison also urged that the remaining sections of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development and National Industrialization and Economic Development that are still to be tackled be discussed once the talks resume. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Suaybaguio’s arrest another obstacle to peace talks resumption–NDFP

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) condemned the arrest of another of its peace consultant Monday, calling it “another obstacle to peace.”

“The Duterte regime remains on a fascist rampage that adds more and more obstacles to the resumption of the peace negotiations with the NDFP,” its negotiating panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili said.

In a statement, Agcaoili said Esterlita Suaybaguio, arrested by police operatives in an apartment building in Quezon City Monday, August 26, is covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) with Document of Identification (DI) Number ND 978447 as second consultant for Mindanao.

Under JASIG, peace consultants and staff from both the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) enjoy “immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions due to any involvement and participation in the peace negotiations.”

“A copy of her DI is deposited in the safety deposit box under the name of Archbishop Joris A.O.L. Vercammen,” Agcaoili said. Vercammen belongs to The Old Catholic Church of The Netherlands.

In July 12, 2017, former government peace negotiators Hernani Braganza and Angela L. Trinidad and Philippine Ambassador to The Netherlands Jamie Ledda witnessed the consignment of the NDFP list with Vercammen.

In July 2017, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said that then GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III issued Letters of Authority (LA) to the JASIG-covered rebel consultants they could present to police authorities and military in case they are held or arrested.

The Philippine National Police said they confiscated a handgun, bullets and grenade from Suaybaguio’s apartment, an offense it charged all other arrested NDFP peace consultants and staff with since the GRP walked away from the peace negotiations in June 2017.

“Instead of promoting just peace, the Duterte regime and its military even send psywar (psychological warfare) and spy teams in schools and communities and even abroad to muddle the facts about the peace talks, sow disinformation on activist organizations and NGOs, and hide the widespread extrajudicial killings and rampant human rights violations in the country,” Agcaoili said.

“The NDFP Negotiating Panel calls for the immediate release of Suaybaguio and the dropping of false charges against her, as well as the scores of other detained NDFP consultants and personnel,” Agcaoili added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Joma says no back channel talks with Andal

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison clarified that he was not informed of any planned backchannel talks with any representative of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Asked to confirm Movie and Television Review and Classification Board member Avelino Andal’s claim he was tapped by Duterte to open backchannel talks with the NDFP, Sison told Kodao that he has yet to talk to Andal.

“He has not approached anyone of us in Utrecht,” Sison said.

Newspapers reported Tuesday that Andal claimed he was ordered by Duterte to talk to Sison to try to revive the peace negotiations between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) .

“Actually, napag-utusan ang inyong lingkod, utos mula sa Presidente kung maari i-resume ang pag-uusap sapagkat ang kanyang pinagdidiinan bilang Presidente, siya ay kaibigan at ‘di kaaway ng sinuman, kabilang na rebelde,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Andal in its report. (I was ordered by the President if the talks could be resumed because he is resolute that he is a friend, not an enemy, to everyone, including the rebels.)

Andal reportedly claimed he already sent “feelers” to the communist rebels, who were “extremely glad” of the President’s move.

Palace officials were quick to deny Andal’s claim, however.

‘Fake news’

In a Philippine News Agency report yesterday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana described Andal’s claim as “fake news.”

“The President says he never ordered him to do so,” Lorenzana reportedly said.

Former Presidential aide Christopher Go for his part said Duterte did not order Andal to talk to Sison.

“Look, everybody is talking. So [I have] no instruction on Andal about back channeling,” Go quoted Duterte as saying in a phone interview.

In a Palace briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo neither confirmed nor denied reports that Duterte has ordered Andal to lead the backdoor talks with Sison.

“I do not think so. He (Andal) is not involved in the negotiation process. Members of the panel would be (Labor) Secretary (Silvestre) Bello, he’s one of them,” Panelo said.

‘Only the GRP panel’

Sison said he believes the statements of Duterte and Lorenzana that the President did not order Andal to open back channel talks with him and others in Utrecht.

“Andal himself has admitted that he wished to do back channel talks in his private capacity,” Sison clarified.

He added that he is not sure if he remembers Andal.

Sison said that as far as the NDFP Negotiating Panel is concerned, it continues to recognize as its counterpart the GRP Negotiating Panel under the chairmanship of Silvestre (Bebot) Bello III.

“[The NDFP] has not been informed by the GRP of any change of representation that is different from the panel headed by Bello,” he said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Not surprised,’ KMU says of Duterte’s turnaround on endo promise

Militant labor denounced Rodrigo Duterte’s decision not to issue an order ending contractualization of workers, saying the President’s move is a complete turnaround from his repeated promise to end the practice.

Following labor secretary Silvestre Bello III’s announcement Thursday that Duterte decided to leave it to Congress to decide on labor-only contracting, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) chairperson Elmer Labog said the government is bent on maintaining the status quo in the labor sector.

“Duterte wants contractual labor to remain the norm while regular employment is just the exemption,” Labog told Kodao.

“He sweet-talked us for such a long time, but it all comes to nothing,” Labog added.

In a statement, Kilusang Mayo Uno said it was Duterte himself in a dialogue last May 1, 2017 who asked the labor sector to draft an EO that he would immediately sign.

“However, like his other promises and pretensions, Duterte refused to deliver. This further proves that his tough-talk against contractualization was a mere publicity stunt to woo workers’ votes like all other traditional politicians,” KMU said.

In his press briefing, Bello said three drafts of the executive order were submitted to the Office of the President through the Office of the Executive Secretary.

Bello said Malacañan however ultimately decided to instead certify as priority a Senate bill on the security of tenure of workers.

Earlier, the Palace announced that Duterte will finally issue an order to end contractualization, or non-regularization of workers. It later said Malacañan decided to postpone Duterte’s signing of the order last April 15.

No order was signed and issued last Sunday, however.

In justifying Duterte’s decision, Bello said the Senate bill is a reinforcement of Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Department Order 174 meant to address the issue of unlawful contractualization anyway.

Bello said the DOLE order and the Senate bill may end contractualization “if there is an effective and honest-to-goodness implementation.”

Labog, however, said militant labor has no illusions about the prospective anti-contractualization law.

Wala na iyan. Lututuin lang iyan sa Kongreso,” Labog said. (That’s nothing. It will just be mangled in Congress.)

Labog warned that more workers would be disappointed and angry at Duterte.

“It will not only be KMU who gets angry with Duterte, but all the other workers who are victims of contractualization,” Labog said.

Labog added KMU’s International Labor Day activities will start at nine o’clock in the morning at Liwasang Bonifacio.

“Our main sectoral call is, of course, for the junking of contractualization,” Labog said.

KMU said Duterte’s mockery of Filipino workers and of our legitimate demands will never be forgiven.

“On May 1, International Labor Day, hundreds of thousands of Filipino workers across the country will show their outrage over Duterte’s rejection of our demands for regular and decent jobs in a nationwide workers’ and people’s protest,” KMU’s statement said.# (Raymund B. Villanueva)

OFW ID is not free after all

By Angel L. Tesorero of Khaleej Times for Kodao Productions

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates–Filipino expats were disappointed to discover that the OFW (overseas Filipino worker) ID, touted as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘best gift’ to millions of OFWs, is not actually free, as earlier announced.

Duterte led the soft launching of the OFW ID on Wednesday in Manila. The ID, also called iDOLE (ID of the Department of Labor and Employment), is set to replace the OEC (overseas employment certificate), a travel document or exit pass that is required for any OFW leaving the Philippines and returning to the country of his/ her employment.

Some Filipino expats tried to apply for the OFW card by accessing the iDOLE portal and were surprised to discover that they will be charged with 501 pesos to get the card, aside from the delivery fee.

Sharjah resident and Migrante Middle East coordinator, Nhel Morona, who tried to acquire the ID on Thursday night, told Khaleej Times: “At the onset, we already had doubts that this ID is totally free. After I encoded my personal and employment details, I was asked to pay 501 pesos and another 200 pesos  to have it delivered at my hometown.”

Philippine Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III earlier announced that the OFW ID is free of cost. “All we need is to conduct an inventory of all the bonafide OFWs based on the list of the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration), in conjunction with DOLE, then we will start processing the IDs,” he said.

Bello, who described the OFW ID as the “best gift’ that President Duterte is giving to millions of OFWs for matters concerning their overseas employment,” added that “all the unique IDs will be delivered to them, whether they are in the Philippines or overseas.”

Labour undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad III told Khaleej Times on Wednesday that OFWs will not pay anything to get the unique card.

“Walang babayaran ang OFWs (OFWs will not pay anything), Lagunzad said in Filipino. “Recruitment agencies will pay on behalf of employers. This will be enforced by POEA. Because POEA issued a governing board resolution authorising and imposing fees.”

“The amount will be set by POEA based on charges by three government offices – DBP Philpost and APO. Validity is term of contract but ID number is same. The ID will be updated every time there is new contract.

“The POEA will process the contract and OEC then send to DOLE the names and other details of the processed OFW then have the ID printed by APO Printing (the same company that prints Philippine passports). Then Philpost will deliver the ID to the forwarding address of the OFW,” Lagunzad added.

“The processing of the iDOLE would be shouldered by the employers; hence, OFWs need not pay for the cost of the ID,” according to a DOLE statement.

But Dubai resident Jun Cargullo said: “The (Philippine) government earlier announced that employers or recruitment agencies will shoulder the cost of the ID. But this ID is only relevant to domestic transactions and has nothing to do with our employment abroad. This is not like the Emirates ID or UAE health card.”

“At the end of the day, it is us, OFWs, who will have to pay for the card,” Cargullo added. “The OFW ID is actually more expensive than the OEC. We used to pay only 100 pesos to acquire an OEC every time we travel and we go back home at least once every year. So it will take at least five travels or five years before we can recoup the same expense of getting an OEC five times,” he explained.

Morona added that the cost of the OFW ID can probably be imposed on recruitment agencies which are deploying new OFWs. “But how about those who are already employed abroad? Who will pay for the OFW ID? I don’t think we can charge it to our employers,” he asked

Morona also made his own calculations. “The OFW ID will mean a windfall profit for the (Philippine) government,” he said. “Imagine there are 10 million Filipinos working abroad, if all of us will get an OFW ID that can easily translate to 5.01 billion pesos (Dh365m).

Portal goes offline

Meanwhile, the Department of Labour and Employment has yet to issue the guidelines on how OFWs can avail of the OFW card. The iDOLE portal also went offline for few hours on Friday and when it went back live with a note that reads: “This website is for testing purposes only. To our beloved OFWs, please wait for the official launching, rest assured that the OFW card is 100 per cent free of charge to the OFW.” ([email protected])

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)

Discussions may prove difficult and exacting–Silvestre Bello III

The Government of the Republic of the Philippines’ chief negotiator said discussions in the remaining four days of the fourth round of formal talks with the NDFP may be “difficult and exacting.”

Nonetheless, Silvestre Bello III said their panel will not waiver from the task of finding common ground in diversity.

“As you will agree with me, the forging og the ceasefire agreement is not about ‘giving in’ or ‘giving up”, it is about ‘giving all for peace,” Bello said. (Featured photo by Nwel Saturay / Nwel Saturay on Flicker)


‘Unexpected departure,’ NDFP says of GRP’s no ceasefire announcement

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands—The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) announced it will not reinstate its unilateral ceasefire declaration with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as both parties agreed in their March 11 joint statement.

In a televised press briefing in Malacañan Palace in Manila yesterday before his flight to this country, GRP Negotiating Panel chairperson Silvestre Bello III announced there is “no reason” for them to declare a unilateral ceasefire in time for their fourth round of formal peace talks. Read more

NDFP and GRP negotiators ask youth to demand peace talks resumption

By Mikhaela Dimpas, UP College of Mass Communications / Kodao Productions

THE peace process can still prosper even without a ceasefire agreement, National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Randy Malayao said at a forum at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, Thursday.

Malayao recalled the productivity of the talks during the administration of former President Fidel Ramos despite the lack of ceasefire between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

The talks during the Ramos Administration succeeded in approving The Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement to Respect Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL),among other major agreements.

“Kahit patuloy yung labanan ay pwede pa rin na ipagpatuloy ang pag-uusap dahil yung pinaka-productive na panahon ay yung panahon ni (Fidel) Ramos na nakapag-produce ng 10 major agreements,” Malayao said.

Ceasefire terminations

 The Reds terminated from their unilateral ceasefire declaration last February 1, closely followed by the GRP’s own termination of its ceasefire declaration, President Duterte’s suspension of formal peace negotiations and declaration of total war against the New People’s Army.

Malayao said that the continued militarization of civilian communities and human rights violations by GRP troops were the main causes of the NPA’s termination of their ceasefire and not the “failed promise” to release political prisoners.

GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III for his part expressed dismay with the Reds’ decision and its effects on the peace negotiations.

“Like any other agreement, may mga imperfections dyan. Pero, for me, there was no justification for any party to withdraw their separately declared unilateral ceasefires,” Bello said.

Glaring reasons

Shari Oliquino, a student reactor from the UP Beta Sigma Ladies Corps, said that the reasons for the ceasefire termination were “glaring.”

“Sa aming mga kabataang estudyante ay nagiging malinaw kung bakit kailangan putulin ng NPA ang kanilang unilateral ceasefire. Kahit ongoing ang peace talks ay pinapatay pa rin ang mga lider pesante sa kanayunan, hina-harass pa rin ang mga lider aktibista, at maging mga sibilyan ay inaaresto pa rin,” Oliquino said.

Bello said that both the GRP and NDFP exchanged documents on alleged ceasefire violations of their troops during the third round of talks in Rome.

He also said that the accusations had “no basis” because the unilateral ceasefire was “not defined and had no parameters.”

Lost opportunities

 The lack of definition and parameters on what constitute ceasefire violations are added reasons for the continuation of the formal peace talks, countered Malayao.

The resumption of talks will give chance to review the alleged ceasefire violations and the possibility of a bilateral ceasefire agreement, he said.

Malayao added that the supposed fourth round of talks will also discuss the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), the mutually acknowledged “heart and soul” of the peace negotiations.

Former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo for his part said that removing injustices and alleviating poverty are the most “compelling reasons” to resume the peace process.

“I will assert that the compelling reasons that he used in his campaign and when he took office still remain: that he will address issues of poverty and the social problems underlying the armed conflict,” Ocampo said.

Bello agreed that the roots of the armed conflict – poverty, injustice, and corruption – will finally be addressed in the CASER.

Bakit ba tayo nag-away-away? Dahil sa paningin ng taong bayan ang ating gobyerno ay walang kakayahan, o kung may kakayahan, ay walang planong magbigay ng hustisya,” Bello said.

 “Sa ating bansa ngayon, justice is only for the rich and the powerful,” he said.

Resume the talks

 The speakers reminded that the people will benefit the most from the peace negotiations and urged the youth to call for the resumption of the talks.

“This is a matter of justice. Naniniwala tayo na ang pag-abandona (sa peace talks) ay lalong maglalagay sa mga mamamayan natin sa peligro at mawawala ang mga nakamit sa loob ng anim na buwan o kahit pa in the last 30 years,” Malayao said.

Bello, on the other hand, said “whatever happens to the talks, kayo (youth) dapat ang mag-advocate ng peace process towards its logical conclusion.” #