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Government panel off to Rome for peace talks

MANILA, Philippines – The government peace panel is set to leave for Rome next month for the third round of talks with the National Democratic Front-Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (NDF-CPP-NPA), presidential adviser on the peace process Jesus Dureza said yesterday.

Both panels are to hold the talks on Jan. 18 to 25.

“Topping the agenda in the Rome round of talks are the social and economic reforms that the rebels are putting across the negotiating table,” Dureza said.

The peace negotiators are expected to tackle and agree on the mechanics and guidelines for a bilateral ceasefire agreement and political and constitutional reforms, he added.

He announced that the government is open to “amending or even rewriting” the 1987 Constitution to address the root causes of armed rebel resistance to the government.

“If you really look up what they aspire for, you have to open up our Constitution to be able to accommodate them. That is the reality,” Dureza said in his remarks during the recent Konsult Mindanao Peace Conference in Davao City participated in by Lumad, Muslim and Christian leaders.

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The existing Constitution, he added, has become a “stumbling block” in effectively negotiating for peace with the communists, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels.

“If you talk with the CPP and even the Bangsamoro (MILF, MNLF) they will never admit and agree that they will be circumscribed by a Constitution or by our laws,” Dureza said, noting that all agreements previously signed with the rebels made no reference to the Philippine Constitution.

“We always refer to international laws and protocols,” he added.

As government negotiators, Dureza said they have to work within the “confines of the Constitution” in order to allow both parties to continue working on a final peace settlement despite their opposing views and ideologies.

As for the Bangsamoro issue, he believed that including the issue in the revisions to the Constitution would be better than filing another law like the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which Congress failed to approve the last time.

He also underscored the need to further strengthen and expand the existing “peace tables” in order to make them more inclusive and ensure the success of the ongoing peace negotiations with various rebel groups.

“If you do not get the bigger public first to be informed of what is happening in the peace tables, and if they don’t understand what we are doing, chances are they will reject what we agree on in negotiation,” Dureza said.

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