Gov’t, communists agree to revive peace talks
MANILA, Philippines — The longest-running insurgency in Asia prompted by the dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos Sr. might just see a long overdue breakthrough under the presidency of his son and namesake.
On Tuesday, the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) expressed willingness to resume peace negotiations, to hammer out a final agreement to end an armed conflict spanning more than half a century.
The CPP was founded on Dec. 26, 1968, and its armed component, the New People’s Army, on March 29 the next year.
The last time the negotiations stalled was in 2017, when then-President Rodrigo Duterte issued Proclamation No. 360 on Nov. 23 that year terminating the talks.
In an online press conference on Tuesday, the Netherlands-based National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) issued the Oslo Joint Statement signed on Nov. 23 with representatives of the Philippine government.
The statement said both parties agree to “come up with a framework that sets the priorities for the peace negotiations” and to “a principled and peaceful resolution of the armed conflict.”
It was signed by NDFP chair Luis Jalandoni, negotiating panel chair Julieta de Lima and member Coni Ledesma, and, on the part of the government, Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Carlito Galvez Jr. and Special Assistant to the President Antonio Ernesto Lagdameo.
Other signatories include retired Gen. Emmanuel Bautista and Royal Norwegian Government special representative to the Philippines Kristina Lia Revheim.
Galvez said the discussions so far were “not a resumption” of the talks, but rather a “from-the-start” negotiations.
The start of the talks is “still under discussion,” but this would “most probably” be early next year, Galvez said in a press briefing on Tuesday in Malacañang, together with other defense officials.
The joint statement was the product of a two-year dialogue and negotiations in the Norwegian capital, Jalandoni said in his online news conference with other rebel leaders.
De Lima said they hoped to reach a comprehensive agreement that contains “socioeconomic, political, and constitutional reforms that provide the solutions to problems that have long burdened the Filipino people.”
But Ledesma said, “Nothing is certain, we only have this joint statement so far. We will have to talk about the next step, like where, or whether there would be a ceasefire.”
De Lima outlined four issues that must be addressed ahead of the talks — the release of all NDFP peace consultants to allow them to take part in the negotiations; the safety and immunity of those who will participate; the abrogation of the terrorist designation of the NDFP and its consultants; and the unconditional release of all political prisoners.
“These are not preconditions but previous agreements that we consider necessary to move the peace talks forward,” clarified Jalandoni. “These should be brought up as clearly as possible to the other negotiating panel.”
The joint statement also comes a week after President Marcos issued amnesty proclamations on communist insurgents as well as separatist rebels as part of his administration’s peace initiatives.
But for NDFP negotiating panel member Asterio Palima, any amnesty program “should be the result of [a] negotiated peace that is based on justice and addressing the roots of the civil war.”
‘Long, winding tunnel’
What convinced both sides to resume talks?
According to Jalandoni, Bautista and a team of diplomats had reached out to the CPP last year and were welcomed by Jose Maria Sison. The late CPP founder died of heart failure on Dec. 16, 2022.
Palima said another factor was “the issue of rising violations of international humanitarian law.”
‘But most importantly, more Filipinos are hoping to see the resumption of peace talks,” he said.
Considering that the communist armed struggle has its roots in the Marcos regime, Sison’s widow De Lima said it was “very significant that the son of the late dictator Marcos [Sr.] acceded to resumption of peace negotiations.”
“It would be to his own good that the armed conflict may be resolved during his term,” she added.
Palima said: “After six long years, there seems to be a light at the end of this tunnel. But the tunnel itself is very long, winding and tortuous. There is a lot of work that has to be done to reach the end.”
ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro welcomed the possible resumption of talks and urged the Marcos administration to “stick to the peace negotiations and not… listen to the hawks and peace saboteurs.”