Palace insists talks with Reds in PHL

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PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte inspects guns surrendered by former New People's Army rebels. — PHILSTAR

By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter

MALACAÑANG ON Monday maintained that peace negotiations with communist rebels be held in the Philippines without a third-party facilitator.

Paulit ulit po niyang sinasabi iyan ([President Rodrigo R. Duterte] has repeatedly said) that the peace talks must be held here in the Philippines. That is why his last declaration was that, it should be held here in July instead of this month,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said in a press briefing at the Palace.

Mr. Roque also said there is no need for a third party facilitator in the talks. “Wala na po siguro, kasi nandito naman tayo sa Pilipinas (Perhaps there is no need, because we’re here in the Philippines),” he said.

For his part, exiled communist leader Jose Maria C. Sison said the Duterte administration “is not interested in serious peace negotiations with the NDF (National Democratic Front),” the communist coalition of which Mr. Sison is chief political consultant.

Mr. Roque said Mr. Duterte “has not given up on the peace process with the communists, but it should be inclusive and should pass legal scrutiny.”

“The President is dead serious about it. He has already asked the Department of Justice to file the necessary motions in Court to set free individuals who will be participating in the talks and I think that is the best evidence of good faith on the part of the government. Of course, there’s information that these individuals cannot be located anymore even if they did not leave the country for Oslo, Norway. But nonetheless the President says he will give the process a chance which I declared as of the last press briefing that we had,” Mr. Roque said.

He added there is already “a panel” in the Philippines and it has the “authority to fix the logistics,” but “any party who wants to help and who’s been involved in the process can help.”

The venue for peace negotiations “should not matter,” Mr. Roque also said.

For his part, Mr. Sison said the cancellation of the talks was made in consideration of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) plan for an all-out offensive until the end of the year.

“By calling off the scheduled peace negotiations with the NDFP, Duterte aims to give the AFP more time to complete its military campaign plan for 2018 of mounting bigger offensives under Oplan Kapayapaan in the hope of crippling the NPA (New People’s Army) and inducing the NDFP to negotiate a surrender,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

Mr. Sison also posted on his Facebook page over the weekend copies of a stand-down agreement dated June 9 and signed in Utrecht, The Netherlands, Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III, negotiating chairperson for the government, and Fidel V. Agcaoili on behalf of the NDFP.

The document states that both parties “agree to a stand-down of their respective resumption of the formal peace talks, in order to provide through goodwill and confidence-building measures the positive atmosphere conducive to moving forward and completing the peace negotiations and the implementation of agreements entered into or may be entered into.”

In a press statement on June 13, Mr. Sison said the agreement was supposed to “start on June 21, one week before the resumption of formal talks in Oslo on June 28.”

Asked about the agreement, Mr. Roque said: “I cannot comment on any document not released officially by the Philippine government. That is why I was silent last week despite all the pronouncements of Joma Sison. I cannot comment on anything that the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines)-NPA-NDF says or releases because I take my cue, of course, from the government.”

But Mr. Roque also said “there is no stand-down agreement.”

Wala pa naman pong (there is no) resumption of peace talks [yet]. I’m sure kung magkakaroon po ng (if there is) resumption of peace talks, that will be considered,” he added.

He said further that the Palace “finds it somehow irregular that the NDF has taken upon itself the role of informing the public what has been or what has not been agreed upon.”

“I think out of deference to the government, they should await government’s announcements and should not preempt government in making these announcements,” Mr. Roque said.

He also said the President wanted to “review (first) certain matters in connection with the peace talks.”

As for claims that the government was prevailed upon by the AFP to cancel the talks following last week’s joint conference with the Philippine National Police (PNP), Mr. Roque said: “I can tell you, unequivocally, that was not the case. It was the President alone who wanted to review certain matters in connection with the peace talks. And as you know, the President has been consistent that the venue should be in the Philippines and he has, as I said earlier, given assurance that he will provide for the sustenance of the NPA including their fighters while peace talks are ongoing.”