MANILA, Philippines — The resumption of peace talks between the government and communist rebels originally set for this month has been cancelled.
President Duterte ordered the cancellation, according to presidential adviser on the peace process Jesus Dureza, to allow a more thorough engagement with the public on the issue.
Dureza did not say when the talks would resume, but in remarks yesterday at the oath-taking of barangay officials in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, Duterte said the talks may have to be deferred until July as he needed “more time.”
“Yung kay Sison, maybe July. I’ve invited him for 60 days lang,” Duterte said, referring to Jose Maria Sison, the self-exiled founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Dureza said government chief peace negotiator and labor chief Silvestre Bello III had already relayed the decision of the President to his counterpart, National Democratic Front (NDF) chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoli, and to the Norwegian government, which is acting as facilitator for the peace talks.
“Hindi na mangyayari (It won’t happen anymore),” Dureza told a press briefing, referring to the talks. “We will go and listen to the public as we need to meet with the different stakeholders.”
When asked by the Norwegian government facilitator if it meant a stop to the peace talks, Dureza said he gave assurance that it was just a temporary setback.
“There is no stopping in our work for peace, it’s a work piece by piece, as they say. And everybody should stay the course… I am sure that the other side has a reaction, but Sec. Bebot Bello was able to relay to the other side,” Dureza said.
Duterte first cancelled the peace talks in November last year reportedly in response to continuing attacks by rebels on government forces and private targets.
He issued Proclamation No. 360 terminating the peace negotiations with the CPP and its political wing the NDF and its armed group the New People’s Army (NPA).
On April 8, Duterte called on Sison to return home within 60 days and start the backchannel efforts for the resumption of peace negotiations.
“The President decided, so the deadline is done with but the efforts will continue,” Dureza said in his briefing, when asked about the 60-day window offered by the President to Sison.
Dureza said peace negotiations have spanned “several presidencies” and there is a need to determine why the peace process has not succeeded through the years.
“We need to look deeper why (the peace talks) is always disrupted when the governments have very earnest efforts, also the other side, in looking for direction for the peace negotiations,” Dureza said.
The decision to hold off the talks came after President Duterte met in a closed-door command conference with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) Wednesday evening.
“During a meeting with the President last night and after close inputs from those who are with us, the President said, ‘Let’s reset, give us time to work some more, so that whatever agreement we will sign eventually, will be implementable’,” he said.
“There is still a need for more work on the side of the government,” Dureza added.
No problem with AFP, PNP
Asked if the AFP and the PNP had voiced reservations regarding the talks, Dureza said the President gave weight to inputs from security forces and other sectors.
“The President is very careful, especially in addressing the long drawn un-peace in the land,” he said. “This is long, not easy road to peace but we have to take that road.”
Dureza said there is no standing order from the commander-in-chief to pursue operations against rebel groups. He stressed an enabling environment is needed for the peace talks to succeed.
“Engaging the bigger public will be the priority,” he said. “Remember, this is a very long drawn situation of unpeace in the land. The President wanted to see that the agreements will get support from the public,” he said.
Dureza noted it was only Sison who had prematurely announced the resumption of the talks by end of the month.
“The decision now is, let us not squander this last chance. Let us do everything possible, and in due time, we are able to make certain definitive decisions,” Dureza said, as he stressed the need to address the root causes of the conflict.
“In our common effort to make sure that we achieve a conducive and enabling environment for peace, President Duterte instructed us last night to engage our bigger ‘peace table’ – the general public, as well as other sectors in government as we work to negotiate peace with the communist rebels,” Dureza said.
“Consequently, the initial timeline that our backchannel team had worked on with their counterparts (CPP/NPA/NDF) ‘across the table’ had to be necessarily re-adjusted,” he said.
“Our peace efforts (in order) to succeed should have good support from the general public, hence it is necessary that all efforts be exerted to inform and engage them in the same way as the government engages the rebels in addressing the root causes of conflict,” he pointed out
Earlier in the day, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the President had sought the cooperation of the AFP and the PNP in the peace talks.
In a text message, PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Benigno Durana voiced support for the resumption of the talks with communist rebels.
“The PNP supports whatever initiatives the (government) panel takes to ensure the success of the peace talks and to achieve a just and lasting peace in our country,” he said.
Roque recalled that concerns had been raised regarding the possibility of leftist groups taking advantage of the delays in the talks to regroup and strengthen their forces.
“The government peace panel in cooperation with the private sector will continue on its efforts to engage those who earnestly seek peace. But it is equally important that the stakeholders on the ground must also be equally engaged through consultations to ensure that all those consensus points and agreements forged in the negotiation table have palpable support from them,” Dureza said.
“We are now at the cusp of some major breakthroughs in the peace talks, hence the urgent need now to take deliberate steps to ensure that we do not falter,” Dureza said.
“Just, sustainable and lasting peace will happen only when our people understand and support these efforts.”
Roque, meanwhile, emphasized that the AFP and the PNP had made a commitment to the President to support the peace talks.
“You can appreciate that the President also wants the cooperation of our men in uniform in the peace talks, and it appears that both the PNP and the AFP are fully supportive of the peace talks,” Roque said, hours before Dureza made his announcement.
“We need to end what the Guinness Book of World Records has described as the longest ongoing insurgency in the planet,” Roque said.
He also stressed Sison won’t be put behind bars if and when he returns to the country as there is no pending warrant for his arrest.
“(Sison) is in the list of terrorists maintained by the state department – the response we got yesterday is that Joma Sison has no outstanding warrant of arrest,” Roque said.
“So probably there’s no basis for him to be apprehended. There is no impediment for him to come home. But what was clear yesterday is that the peace talks will have to proceed. There’s a preference for the peace talks to proceed in the Philippines,” he pointed out. – With Emmanuel Tupas / Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) – June 15, 2018 – 12:00am
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