Peace talks with Reds to resume in Norway
LUCENA CITY, Philippines—Peace talks between the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) will resume in Norway to prevent disruption from those opposing President-elect Rodrigo Duterte and the rebels, the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said on Thursday.
“If the talks are held in the Philippines, the NDFP panelists, consultants and staffers would be at a great disadvantage because they would be under the pressure of military and police surveillance,” Jose Maria Sison, the CPP founder who is living in exile in The Netherlands, said in an online interview.
As previously agreed upon by both parties, the talks would be held in Oslo, Sison said. The incoming Duterte administration, however, has yet to comment officially about the venue.
And if the talks push through, Duterte’s plan to bury the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at Libingan ng mga Bayani would not be a “make-or-break issue,” NDFP peace panel spokesperson Fidel Agcaoili said in an interview in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Agcaoili said he believed that Marcos should be buried in his home province of Ilocos Norte, but if Duterte proceeded with the burial plan at Libingan, his decision should be respected.
“As a victim of martial law, I would like to see Marcos buried in a cemetery in Ilocos Norte. Anyway, it’s only the wish of [former first lady] Imelda [Marcos] that he be buried at Libingan,” he said.
“But if (Duterte) decides as President, that is his prerogative. I’m not going to consider that as a make-or-break issue … . To stop the peace negotiations? That is small. We are talking about the lives of 100 million Filipinos and how to achieve reforms in Philippine society,” Agcaoili said.
The NDFP and the government have been negotiating on and off to forge an agreement to end the decades-old Maoist insurgency.
The two sides met in Norway in February 2011 but failed to reach a settlement, particularly on the release of detained communist rebels and the declaration of a longer ceasefire, which stalled the peace process.
Subsequent efforts to revive the negotiations were fruitless. The government terminated the talks in April 2013.
The rebels blamed the government for not honoring previous agreements, such as the Joint Agreement for Security and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig), which provides immunity to rebels taking part in the peace process.
Aside from the resumption of talks, Duterte has promised the release of political prisoners and even invited Sison and other exiled rebel leaders to come home.
The President-elect earlier directed incoming Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello, whom he also appointed as government chief peace negotiator with the NDFP, and incoming Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza to hold a preliminary dialogue with Sison in Oslo.
Sison said he, Dureza and Bello would meet in the Norwegian capital to discuss his planned homecoming in July or August. “It would be reckless of me to return home while [Benigno] Aquino is still the President,” he added.
Agcaoili said Sison needed a guarantee that he could return to The Netherlands and keep his status as a political asylum-seeker after his homecoming.
“The moment he steps out—and this is my opinion—of The Netherlands without a guarantee, his asylum-seeker status will be affected. So, there has to be some guarantees if they really want Joma to go home,” he said.
Agcaoili said the government should also guarantee that Sison would not be arrested upon his arrival in Manila.
“Many things will have to be guaranteed like he should not be arrested because, if that happens, why continue with the peace negotiations? Why, in fact, negotiate?” said the NDFP leader. With a report from Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon
Preliminary talks with Reds set before Duterte assumes office
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