The government panel negotiating a peace accord with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front has created three teams to conduct consultations with local government units, Congress and the Supreme Court.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who is also the government chief negotiator for the peace talks, said this was in accordance with the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to postpone the resumption of formal negotiations to allow the government to engage a “bigger peace table.”
“The President does not want us to sign a final peace agreement that would just get rejected by Congress and the Supreme Court,” Bello said in a phone interview from Doha.
The government and the CPP-NDF peace panels, Bello said, have already drafted an interim peace agreement, which once signed will form the meat of the final peace pact.
Both panels were supposed to meet on June 28 in Oslo, but Duterte decided to scrap the resumption of the peace talks Wednesday last week.
The President was reportedly irked with the media pronouncements of CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison where he announced the date of the negotiations as well as the June 21 date for a stand-down order for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, and New People’s Army to take effect.
Bello admitted that while he signed the stand-down order together with his NDF counterpart, Fidel Agcaoili, it was agreed that they would jointly announce it in Manila on June 21.
He said Sison should have been “more prudent” instead of prematurely announcing the dates.
A well-placed source privy to the Joint AFP-PNP Command Conference held in Malacañang where Duterte announced his decision said the media blitz of the exiled communist leader did not sit well with the President.
“The President reviewed the recent statements of Joma because it was Joma who was announcing that there will be a week-long ‘stand down order’ between the NDF and the government that will begin on June 21 and that the formal peace talks will resume on June 28. Is he the spokesman of the government? Baka akala niya nanalo na sila sa giyera (Perhaps he thought they already won the war),” the source said.
“How can Joma say there will be a ceasefire effective June 21? Sinong kausap niya? (Who is he talking to?) There are backchannel talks but nothing has been approved by the principal yet. Is he trying to preempt the government?” the source added.
Bello admitted that Duterte has yet to see a copy of the stand-down agreement and the draft interim peace agreement.
“We will move forward with the consultations. The President just wants to make sure that whatever document we sign will be acceptable to all stakeholders,” he said.
With the President’s decision to postpone the peace negotiations, five of six rebel leaders with standing arrest warrants who were supposed in the talks have gone underground.
Sison, however, said Duterte is to blame for the situation. “Duterte has made it impossible for our consultants to present themselves before the proper courts. Duterte removed the safe environment for them to face the court again.”
A Manila court earlier allowed CPP chairman Benito Tiamzon, Adelberto Silva, Randall Echanis, Vicente Ladlad and Rafael Baylosis to leave for Norway for the peace negotiations.
A separate court in Taguig also allowed communist leader Alan Jazmines to join the five as NDF consultants.
Defense lawyer Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center said it would not come as a surprise if her clients, except for Baylosis who is still under detention, would jump bail and refuse to surrender.
“With the exception of Baylosis, the others are not in police custody. Who can blame them [if they have gone underground]? There is a clear threat to their security and lives. This government has branded them, terrorists,” Pastores said.
“The security and freedom of the NDF consultants should not be based on whimsical decisions of the government,” she added.
Baylosis posted a bail of P150,000 but he has yet to be released while Silva paid P100,000 in bail.
Senator Richard Gordon on Sunday backed the recommendation of the President to conduct the resumption of peace talks with the communist rebels in the Philippines.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, who served as a peace process adviser in the past administrations, also threw his support to this call of the President.
While the Norwegian government has played a valuable role in the country’s peace process, Drilon said that “the time has come for the Philippines and the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) to talk among themselves.”
Drilon said previous talks in third-party countries have not worked.
In an interview on DZBB, Gordon said bringing the negotiations to the Philippines would save the government money.