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Uncertain peace talks

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“Despite his frustration over the cancellation of the formal negotiations, Sison believes the talks could still be salvaged, but insisted they be held in another country.”

Is it a mere postponement, or already a cancellation of the peace talks between the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front?
We ask this question in light of mixed signals coming from both sides of the stalled peace negotiations.

Last week, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chair Jose Maria Sison confirmed that a stand-down, or a preliminary ceasefire agreement, had been reached by the peace panels during back-channel talks in The Netherlands.

Sison added the informal talks between the government and communist rebels were successful and formal peace negotiations were scheduled to resume on June 28 in Oslo, Norway.

But a few days later, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza told reporters that the resumption of talks had been put on hold, apparently for an indefinite period, so the government can conduct more public consultations.

This provoked an angry reply from Sison, who described the reason for the reset/postponement/cancellation of the talks as “bullshit.” The NDF panel then produced a signed document on the stand-down agreement and accused the government of lack of sincerity.

While Sison is miffed over the government’s cancellation of the fifth round of peace talks, he’s likely to go even more ballistic over the latest development in this long-drawn saga.

News from Malacañang is that Duterte no longer wants a third party facilitator in the peace talks. He now wants the peace talks to be held in the Philippines – instead of Norway, the third party facilitator between the government and the communist movement.

Sison claims that moving the talks brokered by the Norwegian government to the Philippines would violate a 1995 agreement on security and immunity guarantees forged during the Ramos administration to negotiate in a neutral country.

Duterte’s plan to hold the peace talks in the country instead of in Oslo has gained the support of Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who said that the peace talks had been held in foreign shores, but it did not accelerate discussion. “Let the real peace talks begin in a local arena,” he said, adding that holding the talks in the country would show the government’s sincerity in ending the nearly half-century-old insurgency.

Despite his frustration over the cancellation of the formal negotiations, Sison believes the talks could still be salvaged, but insisted they be held in another country. “There is still hope for the peace negotiations to push through if only the postponement of one or two months is true.”

Duterte’s decision on the continuation of the peace talks will also have to consider inputs from the defense and military establishments.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has expressed skepticism over the sincerity of the CPP-NPA-NDF in forging a temporary ceasefire as he fears the rebels might use the lull in fighting for recruitment and expansion of their areas.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, through its spokesman, has vowed to “support the peace efforts of our government and we believe that this will pave the way toward a peaceful resolution of the decades-old challenge that peace-loving Filipinos has been longing for.”

Nevertheless, the many twists and turns in the negotiations leave us wondering whether a peaceful settlement of the 50-year-old communist insurgency is possible at all.

We recall that as early as the 1970s, the CPP in a policy paper said that it was willing to enter into peace negotiations with the government for as long as it advanced the ultimate goal of seizure of state power through armed struggle.

Hence, peace talks are considered as a tactic to win political concessions and score propaganda mileage while, at the same time, the NPA tries to weaken the will of the military to fight through increasingly bold tactical offensives.

This explains why the NDF has spurned any suggestion for them to agree to a bilateral ceasefire which they claim should come only after agreements on social and economic issues, as well as political and electoral reforms, have been ironed out; and the administration accedes to the establishment of a coalition government where they would share power to ensure that the agreed reforms are carried out.

Duterte has thumbed down the idea of a coalition government with the communists. If the NPA is down to 3,000 fighters nationwide as the military says, how can it demand that it be given a share of political power?

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