Gov’t, Reds agree on free land distribution
Government and communist rebel peace negotiators on Thursday ended four days of talks with an agreement that free distribution of land would be the guiding principle in implementing agrarian reform in addition to an interim ceasefire accord.
A seven-page joint statement cited the two agreements as the major achievements of the fourth round of formal peace negotiations in the Netherlands.
Land reform is a component of the Comprehensive Agreement on Socioeconomic Reforms (Caser), which is considered by the communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as part of the substantive agenda that deals with the root causes of the 48-year-old insurgency, one of the longest-running in the world.
Fifth round of talks
The negotiating panels scheduled the fifth round of talks for May 26-June 2.
Both sides agreed that the issue on territory and taxation—one of the main issues that had delayed the opening of the Netherlands meeting as they were among preconditions to restart the talks set by President Duterte—would be discussed and resolved in the crafting of the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms.
These discussions would be guided by the framework for the creation of the proposed Federal Republic of the Philippines, the statement said.
The Norwegian Special Envoy to the Philippine Peace Process, Elisabeth Slattum, noted that while there were differences between the two parties, their commitment to work together was commendable. Norway has been brokering the talks.
Slattum said the latest round of talks had been intense and challenging but the negotiators made “painful compromises” to meet their goals.
In Manila, Malacañang applauded the agreement on the interim ceasefire and said it looked forward to the cessation of hostilities that it was expected to bring.
The interim joint ceasefire will take effect once both sides agree to the guidelines and ground rules, and will remain in place until a permanent ceasefire deal is hammered out to mark the end of hostilities.
“We hope this prevents further hostilities and unnecessary loss of lives on the ground,” said presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella.
Abella also said that despite what appears to be the plodding pace of the peace process, progress was being made by the negotiators.
“The peace process, while seemingly slow, highlights the maturing social and political sense of the Filipino. Together, let us build communities that are just and peaceful. This is what being an independent sovereign nation is all about,” he said.
A Makabayan lawmaker also praised the latest achievement in the long-running peace negotiations, saying the agreement on the interim ceasefire signed on Wednesday had proven naysayers wrong regarding the goodwill between President Duterte’s government and the NDFP in seeking a peaceful end to the insurgency.
“That breakthroughs and advances in the substantive agenda were reached by the panels, despite the grueling negotiations … only showed the continuing trust, goodwill and good faith of both panels, as well as the members of their respective delegations,” Rep. Carlos Zarate said in a statement from the Netherlands where he observed the talks.
“These gains also proved wrong the doomsayers, particularly from the failed previous administrations, and the militarists and spoilers, in and out of the government, who were trying to derail the forward trajectory of the peace process,” he said.
Zarate praised the “positive gesture” of the Communist Party of the Philippines to direct its armed wing, the New People’s Army, to free a police officer and three soldiers the rebels are holding captive.
Zarate also welcomed the announcement by the government panel of the release of at least 23 more political prisoners.
Another Makabayan lawmaker, however, cautioned against celebrating too soon.
“We should stay vigilant, especially as no ceasefire is yet in effect,” Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago said in a separate statement.
The youth party representative questioned the government panel’s sincerity, noting how a phone call from the President had delayed the opening of the fourth round of talks. —WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA SALAVERRIA AND DJ YAP
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