The Duterte administration has suspended the back-channel negotiations with the National Democratic Front to give the government more time to review all the signed agreements related to the peace talks before proceeding with any further peace dialogues.
In a statement, Hernani Braganza, the government’s negotiator for the back-channel talks, said a government team flew to Utrecht on the instructions of National Security Adviser Jesus Dureza and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the head of the government panel, and conveyed the government’s decision in a meeting with a team of NDF consultants led by chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili.
“The government team also conveyed the Philippine government’s decision to suspend all back-channel talks with the NDF pending the three-month review of all signed agreements related to the peace negotiations,” Braganza said.
“Suspension, however, does not preclude communications between the two parties if the deemed necessary meeting was witnessed by third-party facilitators from the Royal Norwegian Government led by Special Envoy for Peace Idun Tvedt and Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison.”
In other developments:
• The communist rebels stood their ground against the desire of President Rodrigo Duterte to hold the peace negotiations in the Philippines, citing the agreement that provided for a foreign neutral venue for the talks.
Norway has been the third-party facilitator of the talks since 2001, which the NDF said was consistent with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees that was signed by the government and the NDF in 1995.
“In this regard, the two sides must comply with JASIG and its provision for a foreign neutral venue,” the NDF said in a statement on Thursday.
• The Defense department said it saw nothing wrong in the stand-down agreement for the resumption of peace talks between the Philippine government and the communist rebels as long as both parties adhered to it.
Anything that would bring about legitimate and lasting peace was welcome, Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong said Wednesday.
• A high-ranking leader of the New People’s Army and 50 warriors on Thursday surrendered to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez in Santo Niño, Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
Alvarez said the surrender of NPA leader Datu Gibang Apoga of the Lumad tribe and other NPA members came after they realized the sincerity of President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer to attain a peaceful resolution to the armed conflict.
The suspension of back-channel negotiations between the government and the communist rebels came after Duterte instructed the government peace panel to re-schedule the resumption of talks with the NDF leaders that were initially set in June.
During the meeting, the NDF representatives expressed their willingness to keep an open mind on the President’s decision and wait for the outcome of the government’s review before proceeding with any peace talks with the government.
The NDF reiterated its commitment to all the signed agreements, including those involving the planned visit of Sison to the Philippines for a meeting with Duterte.
“Turn, we extended the government panel’s appreciation to the NDF’s open-mindedness in coming to terms with President Duterte’s decision,” Braganza said.
The communist leaders expressed their intention to conduct their own separate actions and activities that aimed to protect the gains already achieved as a result of back-channel, informal and formal talks between the two panels.
Meanwhile, both sides expressed their intention to conduct separate unilateral consultations.
The NDF, in a separate statement, said it would hold consultations on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social Economic Reforms or CASER, specifically on the issues in the sections on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development and National Industrialization and Economic Development.
It also sought to polish its draft on Environmental Rehabilitation and Compensation and Upholding People’s Rights as preparation for the continuation of negotiations on CASER. With PNA and Maricel V. Cruz