New panel to lead localized peace negotiations

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Silvestre H. Bello III
The government panel that was holding negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (NDFP-CPP-NPA), led by Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III, was dissolved effective March 18. — PHILSTAR

A NEW PANEL will be created to pursue localized peace talks with members of the communist movement, particularly those fighting on the ground, in line with the government’s new whole-of-nation approach to end the 50-year armed struggle, Malacañang announced on Thursday.

The government panel that was holding negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (NDFP-CPP-NPA), led by Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III, was dissolved effective March 18.

“The discontinuance of the services of the members of the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) panel is in line with the termination of peace talks with the NDFP. But we will reconstitute the panel at a national scope in accordance with the whole-of-nation approach we are advocating to achieve inclusive and sustainable peace,” Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. said in a statement released late Wednesday.

The former members of the negotiating panel were also directed to “turn over all official documents, papers and properties” in their possession to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, according to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo.

Mr. Panelo, at a Palace press briefing, said the new panel will be composed of “sectoral representatives, local government units and military.”

Mr. Galvez said the shift in the peace strategy will pave the way for the creation of a more inclusive group that will supervise localized engagements.




“For 32 years, we didn’t gain anything from the talks, and it is being used by the CPP-NPA as a leverage for them to strengthen their forces and take advantage of the sincerity of the government,” Mr. Galvez said.

Exiled CPP founder Jose Maria C. Sison, on the other hand, said he already expected the cancellation of the appointment of the government peace negotiators after Mr. Duterte cancelled peace talks in late 2017.

Mr. Sison said the President “has completely ignored the consistent NDFP policy of openness to peace negotiations.”

ARRESTS
Meanwhile, joint forces of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines arrested Renante Gamara, an NDFP consultant and former secretary of the Metro Manila Regional Party Committee of the CPP-NPA, for possession of firearms, explosive and subversive documents.

Also nabbed during the operation in Imus, Cavite was Arturo Jose Balagat, a retired priest and currently the provincial chairperson of the Cooperative Development Council of Cavite and vice chairperson of the Regional Cooperative Development Council of Region 4-A.

Mr. Gamara was first arrested in 2012 in Las Piñas City for charges on kidnapping and the murder of soldier Eriberto Eclavea in Quezon Province.

Police said Mr. Gamara will now face charges on illegal possession of firearms and explosives while Mr. Balagat will remain under the custody of the National Capital Region Police Office for further investigation. — Arjay L. Balinbin and Vince Angelo C. Ferreras