Incoming Duterte admin, NDFP start preliminary talks in Oslo
(philstar.com) - June 15, 2016 - 5:57pm
MANILA, Philippines — Representatives of the incoming Duterte administration has started preliminary talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Oslo, Norway in preparation for the planned resumption of the peace negotiations next month.
 
Incoming presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza, who announced the start of the preliminary talks on his Facebook account on Wednesday, said the ambiance of the meeting was “good.”
 
He said the talks begun 5 p.m. of June 14 at the Leysebu Hotel at the outskirts of Oslo and ended at 11 p.m. over dinner.
 
“The ambiance of our first meeting is good because it has been four years since the negotiations were stalled,” Dureza told ABS-CBN News in Filipino.
 
“Whatever we agree on, we can’t sign yet because [we] have not assumed office. Once we assume office and upon the instruction of President-elect (Rodrigo) Duterte, it would be easier to do the next step to bring about peace in the country,” he added.
 
The NDFP represents the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing the New People’s Army in the peace negotiations with the government.
 
The Duterte administration was represented by incoming peace adviser Jesus Dureza, incoming labor secretary Silvestre Bello and former Pangasinan Rep. Hernani Braganza. They flew to Norway on June 10 as instructed by Duterte to resume stalled peace negotiations.
 
Those who attended the meeting in behalf of NDF include CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison, chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni, Fidel Agcaoili, Julie de Lima-Sison, and Connie Ledesma.

Shared optimism

Dureza said the topics discussed with Sison and the NDFP panel includes the resumption and mechanics of peace negotiations. In their initial meeting, Dureza said both parties expressed optimism on attaining peace for the nation.
 
“There is evident shared optimism on both sides due to the declaration of President-elect Rody Duterte to seek an early sustainable peace for the nation,” Dureza said in his Facebook update.
 
“Both sides agreed that since the government participants have not yet assumed office, the consensus points, if any, will be initialed for authentication purposes at the close of the informal talks and to be formalized soon after President-elect Duterte's government has assumed office,” he added.
 
Online photos posted by Dureza showed representatives from both sides smiling as they tackle ways to resume the negotiations, which were stalled in 2013.

'Ticklish issue'

Talks between the government and the communists were stalled after negotiators failed to reach a deal on jailed rebel leaders.
 
The thorny issue that led to the collapse of the talks was the demand to release communist rebels whom the NDF claimed are peace consultants. 
 
NDF negotiators pointed out that the government has the obligation to free their jailed comrades as a signatory to the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). The 1995 deal prohibits the arrest and detention of peace consultants. The government panel, however, rejected the NDF’s demand, saying the identity of those who are supposed to be covered by the JASIG especially those using aliases cannot be validated. 
 
Last month, president-elect Rodrigo Duterte said he is open to freeing political prisoners even before the end of the talks but some conditions should be met. He said the rebels should return to the negotiating table, shun violence and deal “in good faith.” 
 
Duterte also said that he is ready to provide a safe conduct pass to Sison to enable him return to the country and participate in the talks. Sison, who was jailed during the Marcos dictatorship but released after the first EDSA Revolution, has been on self-exile in The Netherlands since 1987.
 
Agcaoili, however, believes that Sison’s homecoming remains a “ticklish” issue as he may be arrested by the international police in transit points because he has been labeled a terrorist by the United States.

No talks with terrorists

Meanwhile, Dureza also clarified the reports that he is open to the negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
 
“Please allow me at the same time to correct the report by some media outlets bannering the story that i am open to negotiations with the ASG and the BIFF," he said.
 
"True, I have even directly negotiated with the ASG just recently to seek the release of my friend John Ridsdel whom they nevertheless beheaded as the families could not raise the demanded ransom amount. But negotiating with them in the context of what we are doing with the Bangsamoro and the CPP/NPA/NDF is definitely not the way forward,” Dureza said.
 
He said that the BIFF and Abu Sayyaf must face the full force of the law for their terrorism and criminal acts.

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