Bello meets with NDF reps in Utrecht for Duterte’s “last card” for peace

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 09 December) – Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF) until President Rodrigo Duterte terminated the peace talks two years ago, arrived in Utrecht, The Netherlands on Saturday for the President’s “last card” for peace.

Bello told MindaNews in a telephone interview Sunday that he arrived in Utrecht Saturday and had initial talks with NDF representatives led by Jose Ma. Sison, Fidel Agcaoili and Luis Jalandoni and were continuing the discussions on Sunday.

As of 9 p.m. Monday, Bello had not responded to queries on the progress of the meetings.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III arrived in Utrecht, The Netherlands on Saturday, December 7, 2019, two days after President Rodrigo Duterte announced he was sending Bello to talk to the National Democratic Front (NDF) leadership in Utrecht for his “last card” for peace. Photo courtesy of OPAPP

Duterte on December 5 announced in Legazpi City during the Situation Briefing on the Effects of Typhoon ‘Tisoy’ in the Bicol Region that he was sending Bello to Utrecht to talk with the NDF leadership. The NDF represents the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) in the peace negotiations.

“Now, this is the first time that I will reveal it. I’m sending Secretary Bello…. So he should go there. Talk to them and… My… I cannot — I cannot talk about it basta he… I’m sending him back to Sison and talk to him about… Malaman lang ninyo ‘yan pagka — pagdating ng panahon (You’ll find out when the time comes),” Duterte said.

“If (Sison) agrees, ito ang sabi — sabi ko last card (this is what I say – my last card). When I say my last card is — my time is running out,” Duterte added.

Duterte terminated the peace negotiations with the NDF through Proclamation 360 on November 23, 2017 just as the government peace panel was on its way to Utrecht supposedly for another round of talks.

On December 5, 2017, Duterte signed Proclamation 374 designating the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group.

A year later, on December 4, 2018, Duterte issued Executive Order No. 70 “institutionalizing the whole-of-nation approach in attaining inclusive and sustainable peace, creating a National Task Force to end Local Communist Armed Conflict, and directing the adoption of a National Peace Framework.”

The EO institutionalized Duterte’s preference for “localized peace talks.”

Before announcing in Legazpi that he was sending Bello to Utrecht, Duterte explained that “there can never be a statement that would end finality (sic) in everything that you say in public.”

He acknowledged that he said “That’s it, I do not want to talk to you guys, Forget it,” but added, “I cannot stop. Hindi ko pwedeng sabihin, ‘Ayaw ko na makipag-usap’ (I cannot just say I don’t want to talk anymore). That is not a statement of a leader, of a President.”

He said he expects the military would react to this move “but you know you should understand that the quest for — the longing for peace is always there. And not for the military and the police but for everybody. Kailangan — the doors must be open always or the — there must be at least one channel if everything closes na pwede mong pakiusapan (that you can talk with).

In a statement on December 6, House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate and Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat of Surigao del Sur welcomed the President’s move to send Bello to Utrecht.

“A positive development,” Zarate said, as he called for the immediate resumption of the talks based on the initialed agreements last June 2017.

“We are of the position that the peace talks would be faster if it would resume where they left off and no preconditions would be imposed. The last document the two negotiating panels agreed was the Stand-Down Agreement that binds the military, the police, and the New People’s Army from hostilities as ‘goodwill and confidence-building measures’ for the previously agreed resumption of the fifth round of talks supposed to be held last June 2017,” Zarate added.

Both parties were supposed to take up the ceasefire and Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) in the fifth round scheduled on May 27 to June 2, 2017 in The Netherlands, but the government panel did not participate “for lack of compelling reason,” due to the NDF’s instruction to NPA units to intensify offensives across the country following President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao on May 23 that year.

The GRP and NDF peace panels signed on April 5, 2017 an interim joint ceasefire agreement that would take effect only upon the approval and signing of guidelines and ground rules. The panels were set to discuss the guidelines and ground rules during the fifth round of formal talks.

Cullamat said the appeals and issues of the masses should be heard and attended to and the peace talks resumed so the roots of the conflict would be addressed.

She hopes the resumption of the talks is  not a “patibong para sikilin at ikulong ang mga dadalo dito” (ploy to oppress and jail those who will attend).

In a statement titled “Dialogue and Peace Talks: The Way Forward,” issued on December 6, the 8th Ecumenical Church Leaders’ Summit on Peace in Silang, Cavite, “welcomed and celebrated” President Duterte’s move to send Bello to Utrecht and expressed hope for the immediate resumption of formal peace talks.

The Summit brought together 110 church leaders from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao representing five major religious federations/groups in the Philippines under the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) and participants from other sectors.

The Summit called on both government and the NDF to “work towards the resumption of the formal peace talks to address the roots of the armed conflict” and to “immediately work for the signing of the CASER and a bilateral ceasefire agreement.”

It also called on the government to “immediately release Rey Claro Casambre and other political prisoners including NDFP peace consultants on humanitarian grounds” and the CPP-NPA-NDF to “release prisoners of war as well.”

It also urged faith communities to expand efforts to conduct creative activities in both formal and non-formal education in public and private schools, and dialogue under the banner of PEPP, and “further broaden the support for resumption of the GRP-NDFP formal peace talks.”

The statement was signed by Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma and Right Revd. Rex B. Reyes, Jr., co-chairs, and Bishop Noel Pantoja, National President of the PCEC, Bishops Deogracias Iniguez Jr., co-chair of the EBF and Sister Mary John Mananzan, Women and Gender Commission of the AMRSP. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews