Bello: NDF wants early start to formal peace talks

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The resumption of formal talks to end the 47-year-old Communist-led insurgency in the Philippines could start sooner than earlier scheduled, the incoming chief government peace negotiator said Monday.

Silvestre Bello, who will also serve as Labor Secretary under the new administration, told reporters he received a text message early Monday from Fidel Agcaoili, spokesman for the National Democratic Front, proposing opening formal peace talks on July 16-19.

The NDF is the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and represents the rebels, including the New People’s Army (NPA), in the talks.

“I’m very glad to tell you that they agreed to go back to the peace table,” Bello said.

The government and the NDF panels decided two weeks ago during preliminary discussions in Oslo, Norway, to resume formal negotiations on July 23-25, he said.

Also read: Duterte gov’t, NDF set peace talks for July

But Bello said Agcaoili told him NDF Negotiation Panel Chairman Luis Jalandoni had a prior commitment on those dates and suggested they hold talks sooner.

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte sent Bello, former Rep. Hernani Braganza and Jesus Dureza, the incoming presidential peace adviser, to Oslo to initiate preliminary talks leading to the resumption of formal peace negotiations with the NDF.

Bello said any accord that may be reached by the two sides is not a guarantee to lasting peace.

However, the peace process will bring both short term and long-term benefits.

“Ang expectation ng lahat na kapag naglagda tayo ng final peace agreement, that is already a 100 percent guarantee na magkakaroon tayo ng panghabang buhay na kapayapaan. Hindi po,” he said.

[Translation: Everyone’s expectation is that once we sign a final peace agreement that is already a 100 percent guarantee that we would have lasting peace. That is not so.]

He said the peace process is valuable on two counts – the tactical value of reducing the intensity of the violence, and the strategic value of allowing both sides to find solutions to the root causes of the armed conflict.

“Ang tactical value is that while both parties are talking about peace, the level of violence will necessarily go down,” he said. “Sabi nga ni dating President Fidel Ramos noong araw – less talks, more shooting; more talks, less shooting. Pag nagkakaroon ng negosasyon tungkol sa kapayapaan, bababa talaga ang incidence ng violence.”

[Translation: As former President Fidel Ramos said in the past – less talks, more shooting; more talks, less shooting. If there are peace negotiations, the incidence of violence will really decrease.]

Also read: CPP founder may return to PH in July or August

Bello said he believes “the more important value is the strategic value because while you are talking, while you are negotiating, you are actually addressing the root causes of the armed conflict.”

He said Filipinos will be looking at why they are fighting fellow Filipinos.

“And while you are talking of the root causes of the armed conflict, you are discussing how to address these root causes,” he said.

The Norwegian government is brokering the talks, which have been stalled for over four years because of disagreements between the NDF and the government of President Benigno Aquino III over the release of captured communist leaders.

The rebels claim the jailed leaders are supposed to be covered by an immunity agreement and are consultants in the talks.

Braganza said government peace panel was given given 12 months by the Duterte administration to conclude the talks to end the longest-running insurgency in Asia.

The CPP praised the incoming administration for “vigorously pursuing” talks with the NDF even before it formally assumed office.

The two sides agreed to discuss the following agenda during the resumption of peace talks next month:

• An accelerated process for negotiations, which includes coming up with a timeline for the completion of socio-economic, political and constitutional reforms, and ending hostilities and disposition of forces

• Reconstitution of the Joint Agreement of Safety and Immunity Guarantee (JASIG), allowing NDF consultants and rebel leaders to freely move around the country without the risk of being arrested

• Amnesty for political prisoners, subject to concurrence by Congress

• Possible implementation of interim ceasefire

• Affirmation of previously signed agreements