DAVAO CITY—The new government’s incoming peace negotiator Silvestre Bello III said Friday the Duterte administration will explore “a new track of negotiation” to speed up peace talks with the communists.
Bello’s statement came as the National Democratic Front said that they will insist that the incoming government junk the country’s military treaties with the United States in the Philippines as a “non-negotiable” condition for peace talks, despite the recent sea row with China.
“We will see if we can find a new track of negotiation in which key issues would be discussed simultaneously so we can fast-track things,” Bello said in an interview.
Talks with the left have been ongoing since the Ramos administration, but they have never succeeded in ending the communist insurgency.
NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said Thursday that a junking of Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US would be one of their conditions for reaching a truce with the incoming government.
“From the very beginning, we have always stood on the basis of principled self-respect and national sovereignty. We cannot allow the presence of US military bases here,” Agcaoili said in a press briefing.
At a Tuesday press briefing, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said the Philippines would not rely on the US, its longstanding ally, in dealing with Beijing over their territorial dispute over the West Philippine Sea.
However, the country will remain “an ally of the west,” honoring its commitments with its long-time ally, he said.
Ratified by the Senate just eight years after casting a historic vote in 1991 that evicted the US bases, the VFA allows combat exercises between American and Filipino troops each year.
The Edca, on the other hand, permits the US to build structures, store as well as pre-position weapons, defense supplies and materiel, station troops, civilian personnel and defense contractors, transit and station vehicles, vessels, and aircraft for a period of 10 years.
In a Skype interview, Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison confirmed he will return to the country within the next three months —ahead of the resumption of formal peace talks between the government and communist movement.
“I will be surrounded by people I trust. On Duterte’s side, he will make sure that there will be no upsets in the peace negotiations,” he said.
Sison has not returned to the country since 1987 when he left to live in exile in the Dutch city of Utrecht, after the collapse of the first peace talks between the rebels and the government under the late President Cory Aquino.
Sison will remain as chief political consultant of the NDF, the communist party’s political wing, which represents the Communist Party, the New People’s Army and their allies in the talks.
Luis Jalandoni will remain chairman of the NDF peace panel. Sison’s wife, Juliet, will be among its members.
Sison said that the resumption of the formal peace talks will focus on discussions on a comprehensive agreement on socio-economic reforms.
At the same time, Sison said there would be no need to integrate the NPA, the communists’ armed wing, into the military or the police.
“If there is a genuine land reform and industrialization, there will no longer be a conflict because everyone will be able to make a living. The NPA will become a force in the economy as workers, peasants and those qualified will go to work,” he said in Filipino.
Agcaoili would not say how many fighters were in the NPA but said the military count of 4,000 was too low.
The incoming adviser on the peace process, Jesus Dureza, had earlier said that Duterte’s clout with the left may bring a swift political settlement to an insurgency that has killed about 30,000 people by official count and impoverished vast swathes of the country.
Both Bello and Dureza, while both in agreement that the insurgency must stop, said that it would be hard to provide a timeline for the talks.
“But taking the cue from the President that he wants to see an improvement in peace and order in three to six months upon his assumption in office, we can assume that we have to come up with something in three to six months,” he added.
Also on Thursday, Duterte backtracked his promise to rescue policeman abducted by NPA rebels because the communists claimed that the police chief was peddling drugs.
Confirming reports that rebels found illegal drugs in the possession of a police officer who was recently taken following a raid, Duterte said it was up to the rebels to try the cop in their “kangaroo court.”
He said he will he no longer work for the policeman’s release.
“What will you do? You have a kangaroo court.... Sentence him to 20 years of hard labor,” Duterte said.
“I said I’d be harsh. I’m sorry for that guy,” he added.
NPA rebels recently attacked a police station in General Generoso, Davao Oriental and seized its police chief, Chief Insp. Arnold Ognachen and two others.
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