Former Palace Peace Adviser, Bishop to GPH-NDF: keep talking

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/02 May) —  “Keep on talking, however difficult or long it will take. Better  talk than  fight! Saliva doesn’t kill. Bullets do!”

This was the “unsolicited advice” of former Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and Presidential Adviser on Mindanao Jesus Dureza  in reaction to statements allegedly coming from Malacanang that the peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) had collapsed.

“This is a mistake,” Dureza, who served in various capacities under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2010, including as Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said.

Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Philippine Independent Church and convenor of  Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao,  urged government chief negotiator Alexander Padilla to  “persevere in either the regular or special tracks of its peace negotiations” with the NDF.

“The government should not be the first to lose hope,” Calang said in a press statement.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles said the regular and special tracks in the peace negotiations with the NDF are out, the “new approach” is in.

“In our discussion with our Norwegian facilitator last month when he was here, we mutually established that the NDF killed the Special Track that they had themselves proposed and that we are not going back to the Regular Track which is going nowhere,” Deles said.

“We are always ready to resume talks under a new approach which will offer a better chance of bringing us to the peace our people desire and deserve. We are currently undertaking discussions towards this new approach,” she said in a text message to MindaNews Wednesday afternoon.

In a statement on May 1, NDF peace panel chair Luis Jalandoni quoted Ambassador Ture Lundh, the Royal Norwegian Government facilitator as saying that his government has “neither formally nor informally” received any notice of termination.

Jalandoni said the Aquino administration is “acting irresponsibly by issuing bellicose statements about terminating the peace negotiations.”

He noted that the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) of 1995 requires that written notice be given by one party to the other in order to terminate the JASIG and the peace negotiations. “No written notice of termination of the JASIG and the peace negotiations has been given by the GPH to the NDFP,” he said.

The JASIG also stipulates that the termination takes effect only after 30 days from receipt of the written notice and that all immunity guarantees contained in the JASIG remain in full force even after such termination.

“Don’t collapse talks”

Dureza said he was reminded of what then President Fidel Ramos told them years ago when the government peace panel, then under retired Ambassador Howard Dee was in the Netherlands meeting with Jose Ma. Sison  and Luis Jalandoni, and he was Congress’ representative to the panel and spokesperson.

“The positions of the two sides were so irreconcilable at that time that the Philippine team started packing up our bags to fly back home. We even had a shouting match across the table with the NDF.  Secretary (Silvestre)  Bello, then a panel member made a direct overseas call to President Ramos to report that the talks broke down and collapsed and that we were heading home.  Over the speakerphone, FVR (Fidel V. Ramos) angrily  barked: ‘Goddammit, who authorized you to collapse the talks? Go back to the table and continue to talk!’ And so we did.

Dureza, GPH chair in the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front from January 2001 to May 2003, said government “must never  give up or throw in the towel” in the search for peace.

“The President of the Republic is the father of all, rebels included. Under the principle of  ‘pater familias.’ he must get all  his flock, whether good or bad,  under his protective wings. He must balance things.  Of course  OPAPP officials can give the true and accurate status. But the ‘principal’ who is the President must continue to provide hope and optimism. And not close doors,” Dureza said.

Dureza said the talks can be suspended  “but never declare that it has collapsed. Otherwise, the alternative is heightened insurgency. Or more conflict” and the first victims will always be the ordinary citizens it the countryside.

“New approach”

In an article posted on the OPAPP website on April 30, Deles said the government peace panel is conducting consultations with stakeholders nationwide, “side by side with inter-agency discussions and workshops within government, to be able to bring in everyone’s input.”

The “new approach,” Deles said, sees to address “concerns both on the peace table and on the ground, especially among the communities most affected by the conflict.”

She declined to give details but added that the government “remains committed to end all internal armed conflict through a multi-track approach.”

Bishop Calang cautioned that “if the ‘new approach’ is unacceptable to either party and dissolves ‘The Hague,’ then it becomes counterproductive,” Calang said.

The Hague agreement covered the substance of the talks and the sequence of tackling the agenda.

Calang said the government “should not be disheartened that the talks had persisted for 27 years since 1986.”

“Adding up together the actual time spent on the talks, it had transpired only for less than 365 days. For the rest of the time, there was a hiatus,” the Bishop said.

He said the peace negotiations should not be bound by a deadline.

The peace process, he said, “is a far more strategic engagement for all stakeholders than to be limited by a 2016 deadline.”

For us peace advocates, the roots of the armed conflict can not be resolved within this very short span of time, it is really impractical. Both parties to the conflict should look far ahead.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)