Goodwill in the peace negotiations should be a two-way street and should not be an engagement where one party is setting improbable terms on the other.
President Rody Duterte has taken the extra mile in offering the peace laurel to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing New People’s Army (NPA) by opening a 60-day window to hammer out a deal.
Last April 8, Rody said he was giving a last shot at the peace effort with the communists which he termed as a make or break effort.
He wanted, however, that the negotiations be held in the country and not abroad to allow the public to be engaged in the proceedings.
Duterte said consultants of the NDF, who are mostly top-rank rebels who are either under detention or have arrest orders on them, can participate in the peace negotiations like before but they would be rearrested if the talks fail.
“You can all go out. All of you. Nothing will happen. But if we fail, I’ll start collecting,” he said.
Last November, Rody terminated the peace talks, citing ceasefire violations and insincerity and he subsequently declared the communists as terrorists.
In the new push for peace, Rody set the terms saying that he will not accede to a coalition government while demanding that the NPA stop collection of its revolutionary taxes and for the guerrillas to confine themselves inside their camps in the duration of the talks.
In response, CPP founder and chairman Jose Ma. Sison cited the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) to insist on a foreign neutral venue for the negotiations which he offered to be held either in Oslo, Norway or Vietnam.
Rody last Friday said the talks would proceed in July, yet Sison said he doubts a meeting of mind for the talks if it will not be held in a neutral venue.
Also, Sison injected a new demand about a “stand down” agreement which will bind both the military and the NPA aside from his insistence on a neutral venue.
“A foreign neutral venue as mutually agreed upon in JASIG is the best. A Philippine venue at this time would make the peace negotiations vulnerable to control by the GRP or to sabotage by ultra-reactionary elements,” Sison said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Sison needed to define what he meant about a “stand-down” before even the military considers it.
Also Sison has been giving excuses on Rody’s invitation for him to return and participate in the negotiations.
“I have consistently declared that I will return home when substantial progress is already achieved in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations and my comrades and lawyers are satisfied with the legal and security guarantees,” Sison said.
He claimed further that he would be placing himself and the entire peace negotiations “in the pocket of Duterte and at his mercy” and “any peace spoiler or saboteur would be able to destroy the entire peace negotiations by simply abducting or harming any NDFP panelist or consultant”, meaning him, for not giving in to Rody’s terms.
His excuses and tough demands make Sison to the eyes of many appear uninterested in sealing an agreement for genuine peace.
Lorenzana recalled that in the past failed peace efforts, the communist rebels merely exploited the lull in fighting while the talks are held to consolidate forces.
The chance of that happening now has been reduced after Rody fixed a period for the talks.
It’s now or never and the ball is in Joma’s and his comrades’ court.