(Opening speech for the Third Round of Talks in Rome of Fidel V. Agcaoili, chair of the NDFP negotiating panel, 19 January 2017, in Rome Italy)
Your Excellencies from the Royal Norwegian Government and the Government of Italy,
Dear Countrymen in the Negotiating Panels and Delegations of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,
Let me first thank the Royal Norwegian Government for its continuing support to the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations and to the Government of Italy for allowing the third round of talks to be held in Rome.
Our panel comes to this third round ever ready to push the negotiations forward and even accelerate the process of forging mutually acceptable comprehensive agreements on the most important topics of Socio-economic Reforms (SER) and Political and Constitutional Reforms (PCR).
But our panel is also mindful of the fact that certain serious obstacles remain to be hurdled if mutual trust and confidence are to be maintained so that the negotiations can move forward.
We have repeatedly raised the issue of the release of all the NDFP-listed political prisoners as a matter of obligation on the part of the GRP under CARHRIHL. We have also been repeatedly assured by our colleagues on the other side of the table. But sadly, close to 400 of these political prisoners remain in jail.
We clearly state today that the release of the above-mentioned political prisoners should not be seen as a mere confidence-building measure or a gift to the NDFP. It is an obligation of the GRP under CARHRIHL. Neither should the political prisoners be treated as trump cards to extract concessions from the NDFP. Such conduct is bound to further erode mutual trust and confidence.
We have also raised with the other side our concerns over other violations of CARHRIHL and JASIG such as the non-resolution of the enforced disappearance and murder of JASIG-protected NDFP personnel during the Arroyo regime; betrayal of trust in the continued imprisonment of three JASIG-protected NDFP consultants who have been promised presidential pardon; surveillance and harassment of recently released consultants participating in the ongoing peace negotiations; continuing military operations that terrorize communities under the guise of peace and development projects of Oplan Bayanihan; arbitrariness and absence of due process in the anti-drugs campaign; and the failure to compensate victims of martial law.
It is for these reasons that the NDFP panel has requested to place compliance with CARHRIHL and JASIG as the first item on the agenda for this third round.
After this, we can proceed to the all-important task of working on the drafts which have been exchanged by the RWC-SER and RWG-PCR.
As I have said earlier, the NDFP panel is willing to accelerate the process of forging mutually acceptable comprehensive agreements on SER and PCR so that we can move on to the phase of implementation within the period of the Duterte government.
We must prove to our people that these negotiations will indeed bring about genuine change. They are tired of broken promises from politicians and the failed policies of previous GRP regimes.
While we hope for the acceleration of the process, we must also be realistic and be ready for the possibility that the negotiations may take longer than we hope for. We are happy and grateful for having the assurance of the Royal Norwegian Government of their continuing commitment to support our peace negotiations.
I reiterate the determination of our panel to do everything necessary to make these negotiations a success. We owe it to our people.