PEACETALK: Peace is the task at hand

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(Opening statement of Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III, chair of the Philippine Government (GPH) peace panel in the negotiations with the CPP/NPA/NDF in Oslo, Norway, 22 August 2016)

After almost half a decade of impasse in the formal peace negotiations, we have once more come together today, to heed the call of our people for peace. No less than President Duterte has renewed our optimism in resuming the negotiations by bequeathing upon himself the weight of searching for peace with his declaration and I quote “The primary work of the president is to make peace with every group.”

Together with the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Secretary Jesus Dureza, therefore, I am honored to chair, for the second time, the GPH negotiating panel composed of committed peace workers, most of them are already known to our NDF counterpart as they are former members of the government panel –  namely,   former Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento who negotiated and signed with me in 1998 the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law or CARHRIHL, and former Agrarian Reform Secretary Nani Braganza who chaired our previous reciprocal working committee on social and economic reforms, and Atty. Angela Librado- Trinidad and Atty. Antonio Arellano who are staunch advocates for reforms.

The road to peace is long and oftentimes tumultuous, but nonetheless the only virtuous way. It is not surprising, therefore, that our negotiations in the past decades have been difficult to the point of seemingly immovable discussions. We spent more time on procedures rather than on the substantive agenda before us.  At times, our negotiations were more focused on what divided us rather than exploring possible common ground. Many times, both parties preferred to “walk away” than to find a way forward. Despite these difficulties, however, we always find our way back to the negotiating table.

We can draw lessons from these experiences that should keep us going until we responsibly answer the call of our people for peace. One, there is no giving up in peace work and peace making knows no limit. Two, we can never have a peace agreement if we do not talk. And lastly, it will take more than one party to make peace.

Both parties have complied with the first two lessons by coming here and resuming the stalled peace negotiations. Government is committed to the process as what President Duterte declared “we have done what it takes to re-open the negotiations and I am willing to walk an extra mile to achieve  peace.

What remains to be accomplished for both of us, therefore, is to complete the negotiations.

I have high hopes that our discussion for the following days will be cordial and frank, but nevertheless exacting for our tasks at hand. I expect, however, that the parties are mindful of the correctness of our language in the discussion to ensure that we can implement any agreement we reached. I borrow the counsel of Confucius with regard to talking with correctness, and I quote “if language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant. And if what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone.”

In closing, may I also deeply acknowledge the unwavering support to our peace process of the Royal Norwegian Government, through Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brenden whose presence today is inspiring. The coming together  of the negotiating parties to renew the peace process would not have been realized without the able facilitation and the disarming charm of Ambassador Elizabeth Slattum.

Thank you. Let us start the work at hand. Peace to all of us.

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