NDF consultants Benito and Wilma Tiamzon freed for GPH-NDF talks

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/19 August) – Two consultants of the National Democratic Front (NDF) were released Friday to enable them to participate in the formal resumption of the peace negotiations between the government and the revolutionary alliance on Monday in Oslo, Norway.

In a statement Friday, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said another stumbling block to peace has been removed with the release of couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon.

Benito was believed to be the chairman and Wilma the secretary general of the Communist Party of the Philippines at the time they were arrested in Cebu City in March 2015.

Dureza said the GPH and NDF peace panels are looking forward to a fruitful but intense negotiations in Oslo.

In a press conference aired live on ANC, Benito said he is optimistic with the peace talks under the Duterte administration being the only president who expressed the will and determination to pursue it.

Speaking in Filipino, he said the talks will determine the extent to which reforms may be attained.

For as long as there is oppression, the revolutionary forces will not cease to exist to fight it, he said.

“Magiging passe lang ang rebolusyon kung wala na ang pangaapi at pagsasamantala,” (The revolution will only become passe if there’s no more oppression and exploitation) he said.

He said both parties have expressed the will to move forward despite the initial challenges to the peace talks.

During the previous administration backdoor efforts for the resumption of talks took place “through the backdoor channeling led by now Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III but these were brought to an abrupt stop after the Mamasapano incident in 2015.”

Peace talks between the GPH and NDF were halted in 2012 due to disagreements over the refusal of government to release the NDF consultants.

Duterte made a campaign promise to reopen talks with the NDF and assured to release all detained political prisoners, which need to “undergo the normal judicial procedures require by law and regulations.”

Dureza’s statement said the 22 NDF consultants were issued Philippine passports after last Monday’s directive of President Duterte to the Bureau of Immigration and Department of Foreign Affairs to assist them in getting travel documents for their trip to Oslo.

It added that the Embassy of the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG), as the third party facilitator, started issuing visas to all delegates from both panels.

“We have agreed to expedite the peace process by simultaneously holding negotiations on five major agenda items by creating respective reciprocal working groups,” Dureza said.

The talks will tackle social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces, ceasefire, joint security and immunity and release of political detainees

Elderly and sick first

The statement also quoted Duterte as saying the planned release of 550 suspected CPP and New People’s Army members who are detained in various jails across the country will prioritize the elderly and sick on humanitarian grounds.

The release of the remaining political prisoners will be part of the negotiations but Duterte said he will declare a general amnesty for all communist rebels.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the GPH peace panel chair will travel to Oslo from Saudi Arabia where he is attending to displaced overseas Filipino workers.

The Oslo-bound GPH peace panel includes lawyers Rene Sarmiento, Antonio Arellano and Angela Librado-Trinidad. They will leave on Saturday evening.

Former agrarian reform secretary Hernani Braganza had left ahead to confer with the NDF panel in Utrecht, The Netherlands. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)