DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 19 July) – Formal negotiations between the Philippine government (GPH) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panels will start on August 20 in Oslo, Norway with the incoming Senate President and House Speaker attending, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said.
Dureza told reporters they invited Senator Aquilino Pimentel III and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, who will be Senate President and House Speaker, respectively, “to grace that milestone event” of the first round of formal talks under the Duterte administration, the first formal engagement of the GPH and NDF after four years.
Dureza said GPH peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III, concurrent Labor Secretary, asked him to also attend the talks, to sit across Jose Ma. Sison, founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines and NDF chief political consultant, and Duterte’s professor in Political Thought when he was a college student at the Lyceum University.
Duterte approved the peace roadmap presented by Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza Monday night that would “address the Bangsamoro issue, the impending resumption of peace negotiations with the CPP/NPA/NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines/New Peoples Army/National Democratic Front) and the implementation of closure agreements with other rebel groups in the country.”
A press release from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said the formal talks “will be preceded by the release of some 11 leaders of the CPP/NPA/NDF who are presently detained and who will participate in the talks.”
The President, it added, “directed that legal procedures be complied with to effect their temporary release pursuant to the previously signed Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees ( JASIG).”
Dureza told Malacanang reporters the President “directed yesterday the different agencies of government to already start working for the temporary release” of detained CPP-NDF members who will participate in the formal talks.
“Legal procedures will have to be strictly followed,” Dureza quoted the President as saying.
Dureza declined to name the members who will be temporarily released. “It might be premature yet to disclose their names. Let’s just wait.”
The schedule for the talks was initially on the third week of July, based on the joint statement signed by the then incoming Duterte administration and the NDF peace panel in Oslo last June 15, after their two-day informal talks.
The formal talks, the two parties agreed “shall be conducted in accordance with previously signed agreements.”
The parties agreed on a five-point agenda for the first round of formal talks: the affirmation of previously signed agreements; accelerated process for negotiations, including the timeline for the completion of the remaining substantive agenda for the talks, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces; reconstitution of the JASIG list; Amnesty Proclamation for the release of all detained political prisoners, subject to concurrence by Congress; and mode of interim ceasefire.
The agreement also provides that the government panel will recommend to the President the “immediate release of NDFP consultants and other JASIG-protected persons in accordance with the JASIG to enable them to participate in the peace negotiations;” and the “immediate release of prisoners/detainees based on humanitarian grounds.”
NDF peace panel chair Luis Jalandoni told DZMM on May 18 that there are currently 543 political prisoners, 88 of whom are sick and elderly. Out of the total, 18 are NDF peace consultants.
The GPH panel members took their oath at the State Dining Room of Malacañan Palace Monday night after Duterte approved the peace roadmap presented by Dureza.
Bello’s panel members are Hernani Braganza, a former Representative and Agrarian Reform Secretary, lawyers Rene Sarmiento, Noel Felongco and Angela Librado-Trinidad.
Braganza, a former Representative and Agrarian Reform Secretary, and Sarmiento, former commissioner at the Commission on Human Rights and the Commission on Elections, had served as panel members in previous negotiations.
Felongco, a Lumad (Indigenous People) from Cotabato City but now based in Cebu, is former Commissioner for Island groups and rest of Visayas at the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and is Region 7 Chair of the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino (PDP-Laban), Duterte’s political party.
Librado is a former Davao City councilor and incumbent barangay captain of Matina.
On June 21, Bello told Radyo ng Bayan Davao City that they hope to forge a peace agreement with the NDF “in nine to 12 months” because Duterte “wants peace in the country within the shortest period.”
On the government side, Bello has the longest institutional memory of the GPH-NDF peace process, having been a member of the peace panel in the Ramos administration (1992 to 1998) and as chair of the GPH peace panel under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2004. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)