CITY OF SAN FERNANDO?It may be a rough start for formal peace talks between the government and communist rebels in February should the former take a hardline stance against the latter?s ?revolutionary taxation,? according to a leftist leader and former lawmaker.
?The talks should not deflect from the main agenda,? said Satur Ocampo, president of the party-list group Bayan Muna, a few days ahead of the preliminary meeting scheduled for Jan. 14-18, in Oslo, Norway.
Ocampo, who served as the chief negotiator of the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF) during its peace talks with the administration of President Corazon Aquino in 1986, said the matter of rebel taxation should be treated as a ?side issue? along with land mines and the arrest by police of a guerrilla leader during the Christmas ceasefire.
The formal negotiations will be held on Feb. 15-21 after being stalled for five years since the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People?s Army (CPP-NPA) landed on the US and European Union lists of terrorist organizations.
Earlier, the military disclosed that seven mining companies threatened to withdraw from the Caraga region after the NPA, the CPP?s armed wing, increased its revolutionary tax from P15 million to P20 million this year.
Concerns, not imperatives
Health Undersecretary Alex Padilla, chair of the government negotiating panel, said the issues of taxation and land mines would be raised as ?issues and concerns, but would not be imperatives for the talks to continue.?
?These are matters similar to those raised by the NDF on political prisoners, foreign debt and the like,? Padilla said in text messages to the Inquirer. ?Both sides have agreed that there are no preconditions to talks and we stand by it.?
The government, he said, was ?focused on attaining a political settlement within a period of three years or less.?
Ocampo, who is also the president of Makabayan (Coalition of Progressive Party-list Organizations), said he expected the new counterinsurgency program to encounter problems in balancing human rights and development with combat operations ?in view of the hiked combat pay, which can be collected only through actual combat deployment.?
Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta, the spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the military?s internal peace and security program called ?Bayanihan? would try to ?[win] the peace.? This means that the AFP will conduct the ?same intense military operations while doubling up civil-military operations.?
The AFP wants the results of the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and CPP-NPA and NDF finalized and become long term, Mabanta said. But he said the AFP ?cannot talk peace at gunpoint,? referring to the NPA?s use of violence and its espousal of protracted war and extortion.
Rebel hunt on
In Eastern Visayas region, the military announced on Wednesday that it would resume operations to hunt down those responsible for the ambush-killing of 10 Army soldiers in Las Navas town in Northern Samar province two days before the 19-day holiday ceasefire began on Dec. 16.
Col. Oscar Lopez, the commanding officer of the 803rd Infantry Brigade based in Catarman, said in a phone interview the ?offense mode? was in effect after the end of the truce on Jan. 3.
Lopez said his men would not stage any attack or do something that could affect the coming peace talks.
CCT not anti-Red tool
Ocampo said the Aquino administration?s implementation of the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program ?may run into problems, especially as it would be linked with counterinsurgency operations.?
But Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman denied this. ?In fact, it?s one of the provisions vetoed by the President,? she said.
She said the CCT program would reach out to a million poor families, whether they are in remote or conflict-affected areas. ?Our workers are clear on this,? she said by telephone on Tuesday. With a report from Joey Gabieta, Inquirer Visayas