By Ben Cal
MANILA, Philippines (06 Nov. 2011) – Resumption of talks between the Philippine government (GPH) and the communist National Democratic Front (NDF) has been stalled anew after the NDF insisted its demand for the government to first release detained rebel consultants as a precondition for the long-delayed negotiations to resume.
The government peace panel, headed by Alexander Padilla has maintained that there should not be any precondition for the talks to proceed.
Negotiations were supposed to restart last month in Oslo, Norway had the NDF not insisted to impose a precondition.
Royal Norwegian government is the facilitator of the GPH, NDF talks.
The peace talks with the NDF will thresh out the remaining substantive agenda on socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces and forge a final political settlement of the decades-old armed conflict.
The scheduled peace negotiations last month was disturbed by a series of attacks by the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NDF, on three mining firms in Claver, Surigao del Norte last September.
Nevertheless, the government peace panel was ready to resume the talks with no precondition.
The other members of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) peace panel are Ednar Gempasaw Dayanghiran, a strong advocate for the welfare and rights of indigenous peoples based in Davao; Lawyer Pablito Sanidad, a seasoned public servant, and justice and human rights promoter, particularly for marginalized sectors based in Baguio City; Jurgette Honcluda, a leading gender and labor rights advocate and organizer based in Zamboanga City; and Maria Lourdes Tison, a staunch peace and environmental advocate from the private sector from Negros.
The government will continue to look for peaceful resolution to all armed conflict through peace negotiation, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said.
Peace talks between the government and communist rebels have been off-and-on the past 25 years with no agreement reached.
OPAPP has been receiving clamors from various sectors across the country calling for peace.
The NDF is the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP/NDF).
It may be recalled that the GPH panel noted that the bilateral talks of the Reciprocal Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms (RWCs-SER) have been put on hold since June this year when the NDF demanded the release of most if not all of their detained comrades whom they claim are protected by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). But the GPH said the communists conveniently hide the fact that the release of detained political prisoners under the JASIG was subject to verification, according to the Oslo Joint Statement signed on Feb. 21, 2011. The Reciprocal Working Committees of both parties were set to hold bilateral meetings in June and August this year to complete a common tentative draft on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER), which is one of the three key agreements that the GPH and the NDF agreed to complete within a period of 18 months to three years.
The government expressed dismay that the NDF is giving primacy to prisoner releases over and above the completion of substantive agreements that address the root causes of the armed conflict.
The NPA has been waging a guerrilla war since 1969 with its fighting force reached 25,600 in 1986 but was drastically cut down over the years due to mass surrender and battle casualties.
The government has adopted various livelihood programs to lure NPA rebels to surrender, apply for amnesty and live a normal life.
On Sept. 30, 2011, the NPA’s fighting strength was estimated at some 4,300.
The CPP-NPA used to influence 2,395 barangays in 2002, but this figure was reduced by 57 percent, numbering to only 1,017 by the end of January-March 2010 quarter, or 2.4 percent of the 42,025 barangays nationwide, the military said.
An upsurge of CPP-NPA surrenders was also recorded from 2005-2009. In that period, a total of 5,417 communist insurgents returned to mainstream society. Of this figure, 21 were high-ranking CPP-NPA leaders, 2,119 regular fighters and 3,277 support elements.
From 2005 to June 30, 2010, a total of 1,663 various government projects were completed in 800 barangays. These projects included the construction of school buildings, farm-to-market roads, water systems, health centers, and electrification programs.
Last year, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) implemented a new internal security plan called Bayanihan to crush the insurgency problem.
Under the new plan, the AFP will focus on winning the peace, rather than simply defeating the enemy.
Under the new campaign plan, government forces will shift from combat operations to civilian-military work, such as building roads, schools, clinics and potable water systems in conflict areas across the country.
The AFP has formed Peace and Development Teams (PDTs) whose main task is to help fast-track government projects undertaken by various departments, particularly in the hinterlands so that basic services would go down to the grassroots designed to alleviate the people’s welfare and ultimately eradicate if not reduce poverty. (PNA)