Gov’t negotiator insists talks with rebels should be preceded by ceasefire

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MANILA, Philippines—While both the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines acknowledge that the attack on Gingoog Mayor Ruthie Guingona has highlighted the need for the resumption of peace talks, a return to the negotiating table by the two parties appears to be farfetched for now.

Government chief negotiator Alexander Padilla said Saturday that the Aquino administration remains open to resuming the peace talks with the communists but only if the process is “time bound and agenda bound with no preconditions.”

In addition, Padilla said in a telephone interview, “there should be a cessation of hostilities that could be independently monitored by civil society and church groups.”

Padilla stressed the need for a ceasefire before returning to the negotiating table because without it, “violence will continue, nothing will change.”

“I hope the public understands we cannot return to the talks just for the sake of talking and continue all the violence again. That would be just fooling the public,” he said.

In an e-mail to the Inquirer, Luis Jalandoni, chief negotiator for the communist-led National Democratic Front, said that his panel has informed Norwegian Special Envoy Ture Lundh, who is facilitating meetings between the two sides, “that we are willing to move the peace talks forward.”

Jalandoni said his panel “actually offered truce and cooperation” to the government, noting that a truce was even “much longer than a ceasefire.”

“But the truce and cooperation should be the result of a declaration of common intent upholding national sovereignty, land reform and national industrialization, among others,” he said. “Furthermore, we are demanding that obligations arising from agreements previously signed like the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the CARHRIHL be respected.”

“By the way,” he added, “these are not preconditions, but obligations arising from a mutually agreed bilateral and binding peace agreement.”

But these are exactly the points that the government panel is wary of, particularly the demand of the CPP-NPA-NDF to release “consultants” who have been arrested and detained by the government.

Padilla said for one, the government refuses to release any more “detained consultants” because those who have been released earlier have “gone back to the hills.”

“So we even refused to collaborate on that level that we will release them and then they would return to the underground movement,” he said.

Padilla also described as “preposterous” the CPP-NPA-NDF demand for the government to stop its socio-economic development programs for the people such as the Pamana, the Conditional Cash Transfer, and Oplan Bayanihan.

“To them, these development programs are counterinsurgency programs,” Padilla said.

The Philippines has what is now the world’s longest running communist insurgency problem, which dates back to soon after the end of World War II. The government and the CPP-NPA-NDF have been trying to negotiate for peace for the past 25 years but Padilla himself said this “has gone nowhere.”

After a stalled “regular track” in the peace negotiations, the two panels tried to talk through a “special track,” which Padilla said the CPP-NPA-NDF themselves had proposed.

Initially meeting in December last year in the Netherlands, both panels agreed to discuss a draft Declaration of National Unity and Just Peace prepared by Jose Ma. Sison, founder of the CCP, which replaced the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas in the late 60’s.

At their next meeting last February, according to Padilla,  the NDF “proposed three new documents” instead of discussing the Sison draft.

He said the new documents “backtracked from their original position on a Draft Declaration, particularly on ceasefire, which they now subjected to preconditions.”

“They also reverted to the prolonged and untenable process of the Regular Track,” Padilla said.

“Joma Sison practically declared the special track dead when he reintroduced (the) three separate documents that were miles away from what we originally talked about,” he added.

For the talks to move forward, Padilla said, the negotiations should be “under a new atmosphere or a new environment whereby they will actually listen and talk to us on an even level.”

Asked how he thought the talks could move forward, Jalandoni said: “If there is the political will, there will be a way to move forward. But the GPH team wanted indefinite, simultaneous and unilateral ceasefires without the upholding of national sovereignty, land reform and national industrialization.”

Jalandoni said his panel panel also gave the government team “two drafts they can study and consider.”

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