THE Duterte administration has suspended informal talks with communist rebels to give way to a three-month review of all previous agreements, prompting another angry response from Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison, who said guerillas were ready to oust the President anytime.
In a statement, back-channel negotiator Hernani Braganza said the government team flew to Utrecht early this week to formally communicate to the National Democratic Front (NDF), the communist political arm, the earlier decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to postpone the proposed ceasefire and resumption of formal negotiations.
Formal talks were supposed to resume on June 28, or one week after a “stand-down” agreement, but the President changed his mind after meeting military and police officials last week and said public consultations needed to be conducted first.
The military was also concerned the rebels, whose ambush attacks prompted the President to cancel talks in November 2017 and declare the CPP-NDF a terrorist organization, might use the ceasefire to consolidate forces.
Duterte, moreover, wants talks held in the Philippines, and has repeatedly invited Sison to come home from decades in exile in The Netherlands.
“In a meeting with the NDF leaders headed by Chief Negotiator Fidel Agcaoili and attended by Chief Political Consultant Jose Ma. Sison, the government team also conveyed the Philippine government’s decision to suspend all back-channel talks with the NDF pending the three-month review of all signed agreements related to the peace negotiations,” Braganza said.
“The suspension, however, does not preclude communications between the two parties if deemed necessary,” he added.
Braganza said the meeting was witnessed by third-party facilitators from the Norwegian government, led by Special Envoy for Peace Idun Tvedt.
During the meeting, Braganza said the NDF representatives “expressed willingness to keep an open mind on the President’s decision and wait for the outcome of the government’s review before proceeding with any peace conversation with government.”
“They reiterated their commitment to all signed agreements, including those involving the planned visit of Prof. Jose Ma. Sison in the Philippines to Manila for a meeting with the President,” he added.
He said the government team also relayed to the NDF the decision of Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza “to utilize the three-month review period to consult instrumentalities of government and the general public about the negotiations and the substantive issues involved.”
“The NDF leaders, for their part, expressed intention to conduct their own separate actions and activities that aim to protect the gains already achieved as a result of back-channel, informal and formal talks between the two panels,” Braganza said.
NDF representatives will also consider the invitation extended by Dureza and chief government negotiator Silvestre Bello 3rd for them to join the public consultations, he said.
In a separate statement, the NDF only confirmed that it would conduct its own consultations and that agreements signed during the back-channel talks held June 18 to 20 would remain valid.
The NDF said it would hold public consultations on the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser), and review the remaining “outstanding issues” in the sections on agrarian reform and rural development and national industrialization and economic development.
The NDF also said it would polish the draft of the section on environmental rehabilitation and compensation and upholding people’s rights.
Reds on war footing – Sison
An angry Sison however urged the public and the press to “read and study carefully and compare critically the two separate statements issued by the [government and NDF]after their talks from June 18 to 20,” and insisted that talks be held in a neutral overseas venue instead of in the Philippines as proposed by the Duterte government.
“The [government]side is inconsistent and self-contradictory. It seems to wish that the gains and agreements made in the back-channel talks be preserved but it has informed the [NDF] that Duterte will review everything (process and agreements) since decades ago in three months,” Sison said.
“Duterte continues to kill the peace negotiations. While he does this, the [NDF] can always stand for peace negotiations not necessarily with the Duterte regime of unbridled terror and greed. The broad united front of patriotic and progressive forces and the people’s war are advancing and can oust the Duterte regime in due time,” he added.
Malacañang assured the public on Thursday that the President had no plans of turning his back on previous agreements with the NDF.
“The status now is that all the talks are now on hold until the President reviews [the agreements]. And the President has said, I’m revealing for the first time that he will personally review all these agreements entered into by all his predecessors,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. told reporters.
A face-to-face meeting in Manila between Duterte and Sison was in the works before the Philippine leader put off the resumption of formal peace talks, documents showed.
Sison, who has been on self-exile in The Netherlands since 1987, said his homecoming was still “subject to the necessary political, legal, security and technical requirements.”
Asked whether the President’s offer to Sison still stands, Roque said, “It was actually an offer rejected already by Joma Sison for now.”
Norway still committed
Braganza said the government thanked the Norwegian government “for their continuing support to our peace conversations not only with the NDF but with other rebel groups interested in the attainment of just and lasting peace in the Philippines.”
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, in a statement, said Norway remained committed to facilitating the talks between the government and the communist rebels.
“We are, as you know, as strongly committed as we have ever been to trying to facilitate these talks as much as we can,” Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide was quoted as saying to Dureza.
“I think it’s very important to convey the message to you that we have the necessary patience in this and we are not going anywhere. We want to see this through. We want to see the results and if there is anything we can do to facilitate,” she added. / BY CATHERINE S. VALENTE, TMT ON
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