GPH, NDF set 3-year timeframe for talks

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 March) —The government has given itself only 18 months to three years to negotiate with the communist-led National Democratic Front the three substantive and most difficult agreements that will hopefully put an end to the country’s 42-year old insurgency.

Alex Padilla, government chief negotiator in the Norway-brokered talks, said both parties have agreed to the timetable during which they will tackle the comprehensive agreement on socio-economic reforms (Caser), the agreement on political and constitutional reforms and the agreement to end hostilities and the disposition of forces, deemed to be the most difficult issues in tackling the world’s longest-running communist rebellion.

“We learned from the past that the previous panels have been talking and negotiating,” Padilla said.

“The IRA (Irish Republican Army) conflict was far more complicated, involving three countries and 19 political parties, but they were able to settle their conflict in three years,” he said, referring to the conflict involving Northern Ireland. “For us, the conflict is much less complicated that three years is a very long time.”

“If we cannot settle it in three years, perhaps, both sides or either side is not serious enough in coming to terms, or ayaw talaga (don’t really want),” he said. “We feel that if we cannot come up with a peaceful settlement in three years, we might not be the right panel because after three years, ano pa ang pag-uusapan? (what is there to talk about?)”

Padilla said both panels have agreed to come up with a common draft of the Caser in September this year.

Caser is the second substantive agreement aimed at addressing the root cause of insurgency, by incorporating provisions on agrarian reform and national industrialization program, deemed the most difficult issues in the peace talks.

After Caser, the talks will then focus on the comprehensive agreement on political and constitutional reforms, which will discuss possible amendments to the constitution and certain changes in the government’s “political apparatus,” Padilla said.

“The third and final agreement will be the end of hostilities and disposition of forces, where we hope that by then, a comprehensive agreement will be signed and that there will no longer be any need for the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) to continue their armed struggle,” he said.

Ednar Dayanghirang, government panel member, said NDF negotiators themselves suggested that both panels tackle the most difficult issues first before proceeding to the easier ones.

Padilla said that both panels have also agreed to create a separate mechanism to take care of all other important issues not related to these three agreements.

“While these issues are important, they should not derail both panels in reaching for the comprehensive agreements on these three issues,” Padilla said.

The government panel chief was referring to other issues, such as land mines and other issues related to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and the International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the first agreement signed under framework of the 1992 Joint Hague Declaration.

“We believe that now is the best time for the CPP/NPA/NDF to come to terms with government for the peace settlement,” Padilla said.

“What we want to reiterate is that we want a peaceful, negotiated settlement that is just and equitable. We are not demanding for the surrender or capitulation here,” he said.

He said that peace talks with the NDF has been going on and off in the last 24 years, the longest in the world, spanning four presidents and covering 40 rounds. “We are the fifth panel composed by the government to negotiate with the same (NDF) panel 24 years ago,” he said.

“While we want to finish the agreement in three years, the government also wants to implement it within this administration, or the balance of the three years (of President Aquino’s term).” (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)