Towards another impasse in GPH-NDF talks?

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/6 June) – The on-and-off peace negotiation between the Philippine government and the communist-led National Democratic Front appears to have hit another snag after the NDF warned it would defer the talks unless and until the government releases detained rebel personalities it claims to be doing tasks related to the talks.

After its formal resumption early this year, talks between the two parties was set to continue this month to tackle socio-economic and political reforms, with the Norwegian government acting as facilitator.

But NDF negotiating panel spokesperson Fidel Agcaoili said they have proposed to defer the talks of the Reciprocal Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms (RWCs SER) and the Working Groups on Political and Constitutional Reforms (WGs PCR) scheduled in Oslo this month “to allow the GPH to comply with the JASIG”.

In a statement today, Agcaoili said the refusal of government to free certain “NDF consultants” violates the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG)”.

The NDF spokesperson also chided Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process for treating the JASIG as “a mere side-table issue in the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations”.

Deles, in a statement posted on the OPAPP website today, quoted GPH peace panel head Alexander Padilla as saying “the government agreed to work, on best effort basis, for the release of NDFP consultants and personalities who are qualified under the JASIG so they may meaningfully participate in the negotiations”.

She said Padilla made the statement in January this year.

“The resumption of the formal negotiations with the NDFP will focus on the remaining substantive agenda on: socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms and end of hostilities and disposition of forces. To avoid unwarranted disruptions of the negotiations, the Parties also established side-table mechanisms to review and address procedural and non-substantive issues such as JASIG implementation, the release of alleged political prisoners (APOs), and confidence-building and goodwill measures,” Deles said.

Apparently taking exception to the use of the phrase “side-table mechanisms”, Agcaoili insisted that “the JASIG is a very important agreement in the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations” and that “it actually tests the sincerity and commitment of the Parties to the peace negotiations.”

He also quoted the Joint communiqué signed by the Parties and witnessed by Norwegian Ambassador Ture Lundh on Jan. 18 in Oslo which said: “The GPH Panel agreed to work for the expeditious release of detained NDFP consultants and other JASIG protected persons in compliance with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and in the spirit of goodwill.”

Deles called the NDF proposal [to defer the talks] “unfortunate”. She, however, assured the GPH panel “will manage this issue well and shall release its own official statement soon”.

The government and the NDF have engaged in on-and-off peace talks since the time of President Corazon C. Aquino.

The NDF is the umbrella organization of Maoist underground organizations, including the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.

Compostela Valley province in Mindanao hosts one of the most active guerrilla fronts in the country. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNews)