PH closer to unity with new step to peace – Marcos
He said he hoped the discussions with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), would realize his vision — and 2022 campaign promise — of national reconciliation and unity by ending the Maoist-inspired insurgency that started 54 years ago during his late father’s rule.
“[B]oth parties have agreed to a principled and peaceful resolution of the armed conflict so that we may finally face these challenges as a unified nation,” the president said on his social media accounts.
“Today, I firmly believe that we have taken a bold, meaningful, and optimistic step toward [fulfilling] this aspiration for all Filipinos,” he said.
The agreement between the two parties was first announced during an online press conference on Tuesday, when the Netherlands-based NDFP issued the Oslo Joint Statement, signed on Nov. 23 with representatives of the Philippine government.
Both parties agreed 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,” according to the statement.
The CPP was founded on Dec. 26, 1968, and its armed component, the New People’s Army (NPA), on March 29, the next year.
‘Not a restart’
But Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Carlito Galvez Jr. on Wednesday made it clear that the agreement did not mean a ceasefire, as all law enforcement operations against communist rebels would carry on “until all parties agree on a final peace agreement.”
At the Armed Forces of the Philippines Leadership Summit, Galvez said the Oslo accord was “not a resumption of the talks, nor a restart.”
“The future engagement is a fresh start of peace negotiation. The government’s intention is clear. We are here to listen, to consult, and to understand the whole conflict in order to have a final principled and fair resolution of all major issues,” he said.
Speaking on state television on Wednesday, Galvez urged all stakeholders to participate in the peace process through consultations.
“There is no winner if the conflict goes on here in the Philippines. We believe that we are the loser [if the ending is] it will be Filipinos killing one another. We wanted to have a final settlement of this conflict… [so that] we can move on toward peace and development,” Galvez added.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. told reporters on the sidelines of the AFP forum that the talks were only “exploratory.”
AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said the President had not ordered any stop to military operations against the rebels.
“As far as the AFP is concerned, we will continue with our mission and we will continue with our focused military operations… The guideline of our Commander in Chief… is that we continue on our current mission, so we will continue doing focused military operations against the NPA,” he said.
But Brawner, in the Palace briefing, Brawner also said he considered the new agreement a “personal victory for us.”
“If this conflict will finally end, your AFP will be able to shift our focus on external or territorial defense. So, our resources will be poured into defending our territory,” Brawner said.
More food on table
Philippine National Police chief Gen. Benjamin Acorda also welcomed the agreement, saying it was one way of “adding more food to the table of the Filipinos,” as the government could spend more on social services instead of fighting rebels.
Peace talks between the government and the NDFP have occurred in sporadic intervals since the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship and the restoration of democracy in 1986.
The first peace negotiation was held in November 1986, but talks broke down after the Mendiola massacre of Jan. 22, 1987, when state forces violently dispersed a farmers’ march, leaving 13 dead.
Both sides would return to the negotiating table in subsequent administrations but never reached a final deal.
After then-President Fidel Ramos forged agreements with the NDFP, the talks were scuttled during the next administration when the Senate ratified the Visiting Forces Agreement in 1999 under Joseph Estrada’s administration.
In June 2006, then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared an all-out war on the communist rebels and set aside P1 billion for the military and the police to crush the insurgency.
A new peace panel was formed under Benigno Aquino III’s presidency, but the talks got stalled over releasing political prisoners.
Similar negotiations started by former President Rodrigo Duterte fell apart following clashes between the military and the NPA. In November 2017, Duterte terminated the peace talks under Proclamation No. 360.
On Tuesday, NDFP chair Luis Jalandoni said the Oslo statement was the product of a two-year dialogue and negotiations in the Norwegian capital, including a clandestine meeting between retired AFP chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista and self-exiled CPP founder Jose Maria Sison months before the latter died on Dec. 16, 2022.
Galvez confirmed this on Wednesday, saying Bautista had visited Sison last year “in his personal capacity” after a speaking engagement in Oslo on the invitation of the Norwegian government.
“It appears during their conversations they have agreed on certain things to have a final settlement on the peace process,” he said.
Bautista later gave briefings to Marcos “several times” about the matter, according to Galvez, who previously served as acting defense secretary.
Ahead of the Oslo joint statement, the President signed a series of proclamations granting amnesty to communist and Moro secessionist rebels.
Covered under Proclamation Nos. 403, 405, and 406 were “members [of the concerned rebel groups] who have committed crimes punishable under the Revised Penal Code and special penal laws in furtherance of their political beliefs,” while Proclamation No. 404 grants amnesty to “former members of the … CPP-NPA-NDF” who have committed such crimes also in furtherance of their political beliefs.
A support group for political prisoners urged the government to “overhaul” the latter proclamation to allow the “genuine” release of almost 800 political prisoners in the country.
This would enable at least 17 detained NDFP consultants to rejoin the talks “as a concrete, practical measure to move the peace process forward,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said in a statement.
Activists and rights watchdogs, including Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Karapatan, and Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainee Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto, urged the government to show its goodwill by ordering the release of political prisoners and voiding the terrorist designation of members of the representative panel.