OSLO, Norway – The Philippine government (GPH) on Monday resumed its formal peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF), seeking to forge a political settlement anchored on sweeping social, economic, and political reforms that were deemed crucial in ending Asia’s longest running insurgency.
Two Cabinet officials of the President Rodrigo Duterte led the five-member government panel that met in Oslo with top leaders of the NDF, some of whom flew directly from the Philippines immediately after being released from prisons on bail.
“We are all here, in a foreign land, to reignite the lost sparks that were there before as both parties search for political settlement and peace. The last talks were five years ago and in all these peace efforts spanning under six presidencies, we had breakdown of talks due to preconditions,” said Secretary Jesus Dureza, the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process.
“Why are we here today, doing the same thing and hoping to get the same result? If we look at where we are today, there is a new element: the Duterte presidency. There is also a fresh euphoria among our people about the prospects of peace negotiations,” Dureza added.
Dureza expressed optimism that, unlike in previous negotiations, the new round of talks between the Philippine government and the NDF would succeed this time due to bold steps undertaken by President Duterte to jump start the discussions in Oslo.
“We are all witness how he (Duterte) had taken bold steps, the unprecedented and historic release of our detainees, to make them available to the negotiations. Even the record time facilitation of foreign travel, not even available to ordinary Filipinos, had been made possible to make the NDF personalities available to the negotiating table,” he pointed out.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello, concurrent chairman of the government peace panel with NDF, noted that President Duterte has made the mission of the government panel very clear: help bring peace to the Filipino people.
“There is no giving up on peace work and peace-making knows no limits,” Bello said.
“We can never have a peace agreement if we do not talk. It will take more than one party to make a peace agreement,” he added.
The resumption of the GPH-NDF peace negotiations in Oslo has been described as historic as it also served as a venue for the reunion of Filipino Marxist leaders who assumed top positions in the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
For the first time in 30 years, founding CPP Chairman Jose Maria Sison huddled under roof with three other guerilla leaders who, according to the military, once served as party chairman – Benito Tiamzon, Allan Jasmines, and Rafael Baylosis.
Tiamzon and his wife Wilma, who allegedly served as CPP Secretary General, were freed on bail only last week and allowed to travel to Oslo to participate in the peace negotiations. Jasminez and Baylosis were also ordered release on bail for the peace talks.
The meeting in Oslo from Aug. 22 to 26 will be the first formal peace talks under the Duterte administration. This comes on the heels of informal talks earlier held in Norway, where the rebels agreed to resume negotiations with the government.
The agenda of the first meeting in Oslo will cover 5 major points:
Affirmation of previously signed agreements;
Accelerated process for negotiations, including the timeline for the completion of the remaining substantive agenda for the talks: socio-economic reforms; political and economic reforms; and end of hostilities and disposition of forces;
Reconstitution of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) list
Amnesty Proclamation for the release of all detained political prisoners, subject to concurrence by Congress; and
Mode of interim ceasefire.