GPH panel not keen on resuming talks with NDF – Davao peace advocates

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 4 April) – Peace advocates, after attending a closed-door dialogue with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) at the Apo View Hotel here Wednesday, said the government (GPH) may not be open to resume talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF).

Juland Suazo, of the environmentalist group Panalipdan Southern Mindanao, observed that the GPH panel “seemed not open to continue the formal talks with the NDF.”

He said the government is considering “localized peace talks” that will focus in lumad (indigenous people) areas instead of returning to the negotiating table with the NDF panel. That is why the OPAPP held a dialogue with the CSOs, he added.

The GPH-NDF peace talks that was scheduled last February 25-26 to be hosted by the Norwegian government was not pushed through as there was “no meeting of minds” from both panels, according to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

The NDF reportedly blamed the government for the scuttled talks.

Wednesday’s dialogue, dubbed “Public Conversation on Peace-building,” was attended by at least 100 representatives of various civil society organizations (CSO) all over Mindanao. It was the second consultation, following the one in Bacolod City last month, according to the OPAPP secretariat.

The meeting, however, was closed to media as reporters who got inside the venue early were asked to go out. The secretariat later told other journalists they were not allowed to witness the proceedings.

“In my reading of the dialogue today, I think the GPH panel is finding it hard to look for reasons to continue the peace talks. I hope they will, though,” Twinkle Bautista, information and communication team leader of the Peacebuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI), also a participant, told MindaNews in a text message.

“I also find it positive that the panel is willing to search for new ways to approach the peace process,” she added.

Bautista said the PBCI supports “sustainable peace process that genuinely reflects the cry of the people who matter most – the communities. And yet, embracing and working with all sectors affected by it – the indigenous peoples, migrants, business, churches, armed groups and security sector.”

She cited that her group planned to deal directly with the GPH-NDF issue “by enhancing our relationship with the GPH panel working with and seeking to establish relationship with the NDF.”

In addition, Bautista said they will continue their “work on the ground that addresses the issues of the people,” such as livelihood, trainings on peace and reconciliation, and dialogues, among others.

“Our loyalty is with Jesus Christ and the peace theology that we follow compels us to work with different political ideologies,” she added.

On the other hand, Suazo fell short of his expectation as there was no thorough discussion on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) during the dialogue.

He said to achieve peace, the root causes of the country’s crises – such as foreign domination and landlessness – should be addressed.

Outside the Apo View Hotel, militants led by Bayan Southern Mindanao rallied to call for the resumption of the talks and for the signing of the CASER.

Sheena Duazo, Bayan Southern Mindanao spokesperson, said it is the government that “showed no interest in resuming the peace talks when it failed to recognize the objectivity of the CASER and systematically continued its anti-insurgency (program) that targets civilians through Oplan Bayanihan.”

In an article published in the OPAPP’s website, peace advocates in Negros Occidental aired at the public dialogue the need for “greater involvement of all sectors” in the GPH-NDF peace talks as the people will be affected by any agreement made by both parties.

Ednar Dayanghirang, GPH panel member and chair of the reciprocal working committee on socio-economic reforms who attended the dialogue, said in a phone interview he is yet to comment on the matter after the OPAPP publishes its statement.

The GPH panel has no statement yet about the dialogue here on the OPAPP’s website as of Thursday. The OPAPP reportedly welcomed the CSOs’ call for both parties to resume the talks. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro / MindaNews)