Communists junk localized peace talks

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LUCENA CITY—The National Democratic Front, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has ruled out “localized peace talks,” the government’s preferred method of negotiations to deal with the decades-old communist insurgency.

Luis Jalandoni, the lead negotiator of the NDF peace panel, on Tuesday said the units of the New People’s Army (NPA)—the armed wing of the CPP—operating in different parts of the country “are not authorized to engage in peace negotiations.”

The policy is observed by all local units of the communist movement, Jalandoni said in an e-mail interview from his base in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

On May 8, the CPP declared its full support and recognition of the NDF peace negotiating panel which is representing the party in the peace talks with the government.

“Not a single unit of the NPA or leadership committee of the CPP will fall for the Aquino regime’s localized peace talks scheme,” the CPP said in a statement.

Jalandoni said localized peace talks “do not constitute a new approach.”

“It is actually an old worn-out futile attempt of the reactionary government to split the revolutionary movement and deceive the people,” he said.

Teresita Deles, the presidential peace adviser, earlier said the government was pursuing discussions to resume the negotiations using a new approach, which was taken to mean the “localized peace talks.”

She said the new approach would not involve the government panel which had been dealing with the NDF in the on-and-off talks.

Deles said the shift in strategy would focus on the pivotal role of the affected communities and other peace stakeholders.

Ramcey Astoveza, chief of the Agta tribe in the Sierra Madre mountains in northern Quezon province, declared support for the localized peace talks.

But for it to succeed, all local officials and affected communities should be actively involved, he said. Finding a peaceful end to the conflict should not be left only to the military and NPA combatants, he said.

Astoveza said the indigenous people should be actively involved in all forms of peace negotiations.

“We want our voices to be heard. The armed protagonists have long been killing each other right inside our communities and oftentimes, we become their hapless victims and our inherent peaceful living is their collateral damage,” he said.

Lt. Col. Neil Anthony Estrella, spokesman of the Southern Luzon Command, challenged all local chief executives in Southern Tagalog and Bicol to come forward and declare support for the peace talks.

“In our common pursuit for peace, there should be no fence sitters. We’re all stakeholders here, particularly the local officials because they are representatives of their respective communities who have long been suffering from NPA atrocities,” Estrella said.

The Inquirer asked several Quezon mayors by text if they would support localized peace talks, but no one had replied by press time.

Jalandoni maintained that pursuing peace talks at the local level was bound to fail, citing past failed attempts with communist splinter groups like the Revolutionary Proletarian Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB) and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA), which he branded as “fake peace talks.”

“They have become part of the AFP machinery, just like the Cafgus (Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit). It has meant the pocketing of the people’s tax money by corrupt civilian and military officials and the producing of so-called surrenderees,” Jalandoni said.

He called on the Aquino administration to return to the negotiating table and resume the peace talks with the NDF.

The talks hit another impasse after the two panels accused each other of reneging on agreements reached during the so-called “special track” that the rebel group had proposed to salvage the talks.

The special track required that the communists give up their preconditions for the talks to resume. However, the NDF backtracked in February and demanded as a precondition the release of detained communist rebels.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, meanwhile, said the military wanted to end the armed conflict now and not wait another three years before a peace agreement was reached with the communist rebels.

“We want to end the armed struggle now and stop the killings and the extortion activities (by the NPA). Don’t we want to end the conflict now and not wait another three years (for peace)?” Bautista said in an interview.

Bautista made the comment in reaction to Jalandoni’s statement that the insurgents would rather wait for the next administration to negotiate a peace deal since the prospects for peace with the Aquino administration had dimmed.

Meanwhile, President Aquino has tapped the government’s chief negotiator with the communist rebels to head the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

Alexander Padilla, a health undersecretary, took over as president and CEO of PhilHealth effective June 13.—With reports from TJ Burgonio and Nikko Dizon

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