By Antonio Colina IV
DAVAO CITY – Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque clarified on Tuesday that the Royal Norwegian Government can still continue as a third-party facilitator to the peace talks between government (GRP) and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace panels.
During a press briefing in Cotabato City on Tuesday, Roque said all third parties who have been involved in the previous peace talks and who would want to continue to be involved can still participate.
He reiterated that President Duterte wants the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations to be held in the Philippines.
“Ang ini-emphasize ko lang ay yung pagnanais ng ating presidente na sa Pilipinas gawin po ang usapin (What I was emphasizing yesterday was the desire of the President to hold it here) but a third party facilitator does not have to be abroad to facilitate the peace talks,” he said.
Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said the Norwegian government has remained patient, resilient and steadfast in its help to the Filipino people despite the challenges in the peace process with the communists.
“I am now in Oslo, Norway to attend an International Forum on Conflict Mediation and to express our country’s gratitute for Norway’s significant and continuing support to the long-drawn peace negotiations with the Left. I am also here to explain to them the reasons why the planned resumption of the peace talks discussed during backchannel meetings, was reset,” he said.
But in a statement, Rey Claro Casambre, a consultant of NDFP who is also executive director of the Philippine Peace Center, said insisting on holding the talks here is tantamount to calling off the negotiations.
“The clear and simple reason is that there is no way peace talks held in the Philippines can be protected and spared from sabotage by the spoilers and enemies of a genuine peace process – those who oppose meaningful reforms that would alter the status quo in favor of the greater majority of the population,” he said.
Casambre added NDFP would never agree to hold the peace talks in the Philippines and the previously signed agreements between both parties, which have been followed for 26 years, state the peace talks must be held at a foreign neutral venue.
He said government throws the “entire peace negotiation into a darker cloud of uncertainty, threatening even to derail the talks permanently” when it postponed the supposed 5th round of talks in Oslo, Norway on June 28.
He believes the government has deeper reasons for its decision to move the June 28 GRP-NDFP peace talks in Oslo, Norway other than the supposed need for President Duterte to study the documents produced by four rounds of backchannel talks.
“These documents, after all, have been at least three months in the making, with the GRP negotiating panel constantly requesting breaks to check and countercheck with their principals if they are still in line with their marching orders,” Casambre added.
Duterte told his government panel to “reset” the talks with the communists, seeing the need to engage the “bigger table” through consultations to ensure all consensus points and agreements to be forged between GRP and NDFP peace panels would have the support of the people.
Before leaving for Oslo, Norway on Sunday to attend an International Forum on Conflict Mediation from June 18 to 20, Dureza said the President would review the previously signed agreements with the NDFP such as the 1992 Joint Hague Agreement Declaration, 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, and 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
Dureza said the President wants to personally study those agreements because they might be the reason for the intermittent talks that had been going on for many years.
Casambre called on peace advocates in strongly deploring the “postponement” of peace talks, riddled as it is “with crass inconsistency, lacking in integrity and forthrightness, and with thinly cloaked ill intentions.”
He said that engaging the public on issues and in discussions to lend legitimacy to the process no less than dubious, saying it’s an “old, worn-out trick,” which had been employed by the Arroyo and Aquino administrations with the intent and end result of never coming back to the negotiating table.
“Have both panels not been doing so since the talks began in 1992? And why desist from holding the formal talks while consultations are ongoing?” he added.
Both parties will still have to thresh out the three remaining comprehensive agreements on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), dubbed as the “heart and soul” of the peace negotiations, Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR), and End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces.
The fifth round of GRP-NDFP peace talks was aborted for the second time just two days before it would resume on November 25 to 27, 2017, with Proclamation 360 of President Duterte “for lack of sincerity,” following an NPA ambush on November 9, 2017 that killed a four-month old Walysha Manchorao, and similar incidents.
The President subsequently signed Proclamation 374, designating the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, New People’s Army, as terrorist organizations.
The GRP and NDFP peace panels had already agreed on three common drafts on general amnesty and release of all political prisoners in compliance with 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL); coordinated unilateral ceasefires; and part 1 of ARRD and part 2 of NIED.
The formal talks would have tackled CASER, the “heart and soul” of the peace negotiation that was seen to address the very roots of the armed conflict.