PEACETALK:  Finding common ground, matching word with deed, having resolve with will

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Opening Statement of GRP Panel Chair Silvestre Bello III during the 3rd Round of Talks between the GRP and the NDF in Rome, Italy on 19 January 2017

Almost five months ago, in August of last year, we embarked on resuming our negotiations which to many, after almost three decades of peace talks, seem to be intractable and more so, immovable to others.

Against this pessimism, however, we decided to come forward and tried anew the talk for peace. Resuming the talks we did, with only the steady guiding hands of President Duterte for us to hold on as we venture on the difficult tasks of sensing each other and understanding each other’s fears and dilemma. Doubly difficult were the challenges of unlearning war in order to wage peace.

We are glad that we did not falter in resuming the talks after seven years of impasse to be followed by another five years. For indeed, our first and second round of talks in August and October, respectively, were no small measures of our commitment to the tasks of ending the armed conflict and of building peace. Our joint signed commitment to stay at the table and complete the negotiations within a specific timeframe, provided us the needed momentum to discuss remaining substantive agenda of the negotiations.

Our respective declaration of indefinite ceasefires in August to accompany the talks put flesh to our commitment at the table. More so, it afforded our people tangible dividends of the peace talks, given the lowering of the level of violence on the ground, especially in conflict-affected communities. Undoubtedly, we both earned confidence that allowed us to start the discussion of a possible joint ceasefire that will hopefully lay the groundwork for ending hostilities.

And so, this brought us to this third round of talks which I am privileged to open with Ka Fidel in the presence of staunch peace warriors in the persons of Secretary Dureza and Professor Sison, together with our peace champions headed by no less than Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum in her capacity as our third party facilitator.

It is very opportune to hold this round of talks at the advent of the new year that promised enabling hope. Indeed, we shall need this hope to tackle the rigorous subjects on socio- economic, political and constitutional reforms, and of ending hostilities and disposition of forces. I am also hopeful we can meaningfully discuss the issues that persistently confront our negotiating table, such as prisoner release; the implementation of the reconstructed JASIG list; the full operationalization of the Joint Monitoring Committee of CARHRIHL; and the amnesty program.

Likewise, I am one with President Duterte’s optimism that in this round of talks, we are able to finalize and approve the joint ceasefire agreement. Towards these agenda, the GRP panel has come prepared to exchange and discuss our drafts on said agreements.

There are reasons to hope we can hurdle the task we meant to accomplish in these talks. From the pre-meeting of the panels held last night to finalize our discussion agenda today, I see the same commitments of both parties that animated us during the past round of talks to remain strong.

We welcome the proposal of our Norwegian third party facilitator on the guidelines for the talks with regard to documentation, media coverage, and confidentiality. Surely these will not only further improve the environment for talking but likewise, help us protect the integrity of our discussion, which is increasingly challenged as we confront the harder parts of our negotiations.

I trust that our discussion in the next five days will be cordial but frank, rigorous but productive—in finding common ground, in matching word with deed, and in having resolve with will. Hopefully, the outcome of this third round of talks will not change us, but rather unequivocally define us.

As the GRP panel chair and peace worker myself, I am grateful to everyone for bringing us to this round of talks. May the promise of hope that the new year brings, continue to animate our negotiations. Thank you and happy new year. ###

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