Gov't suspends all talks with Reds for 3-month review

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President Rodrigo Duterte's administration is the sixth to hold peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF).

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 21) — The government (GRP) has told the National Democratic Front (NDF) that it was suspending all backchannel talks for three months to review signed agreements related to the peace negotiations, an official said.

GRP Representative Hernani Braganza said in a statement Tuesday that they relayed President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to postpone talks anew to NDF Chief Negotiator Fidel Agcaoili and Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison in Utrecht, Netherlands.

"The government team also conveyed the Philippine government's decision to suspend all backchannel talks with the NDF pending the three-month review of all signed agreements related to the peace negotiations," said Braganza. "The suspension, however, does not preclude communications between the two parties if deemed necessary."

Braganza added the three-month period — initially suggested by the Armed Forces of the Philippines — will also be used for public and government consultation on the peace talks as ordered by Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza.

"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 backchannel, informal and formal talks between the two panels," he said.

Braganza said NDF representatives will keep "an open mind" on the President's decision and wait for the outcome of the government's review.

Duterte's review

President Rodrigo Duterte's administration is the sixth to hold peace talks with the NDF, the umbrella organization of communist groups led by the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging nearly five decades of insurgency against the government.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte will have to review the deals with the NDF as it is a non-state actor.

"Gustong malinaw ng Presidente na sang-ayon siya sa lahat ng mga pinasok na kasunduan ng kanyang mga predecessors," Roque said in a press briefing Tuesday.

[Translation: The President just wants to make sure that he agrees with all the deals made by his predecessors.]

Among those deals in review is the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) which provides safety guarantees to all participants in the talks since it was signed in 1995.

Roque also said the review meant the President is willing is to take part in the peace talks.

NDF: Meeting delayed due to Norway issue

The NDF, on the other hand, said the meeting with GRP got delayed to clarify Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque's earlier statement saying there is no longer any need for a third-party negotiator.

READ: Gov't wants PH as venue of peace talks with Reds

"The role of the (third-party facilitator) is of key importance while there is need to hold formal peace negotiations in a foreign neutral venue in compliance with the pertinent provision in the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG)," he said.

Roque has since clarified his statement, saying Norway may continue to be the third-party negotiator for the talks, but that Duterte would like the talks to be held in the Philippines.

In May, NDF chief political consultant Jose Ma. Sison said both sides were set to sign an interim peace agreement also on June 28, which could lead to the resumption of the talks after Duterte junked it in November 2017. The President ended the talks with Communist rebels then as both sides accused each other of violating their ceasefire agreement.

Representatives of the government and the rebels had since been holding back channel discussions about returning to the negotiating table.