Roque: Government hasn't closed doors to peace talks
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque holds a press briefing at the Palace
Facebook screengrab/Presidential Communications

Roque: Government hasn't closed doors to peace talks
( - July 4, 2018 - 11:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — The government has not closed the doors to resuming peace talks with communist rebels but they need to comply with President Rodrigo Duterte's conditions for negotiations to push through.

Among the conditions that presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in an update on a command conference that Duterte led on Wednesday evening — that peace talks be held in the Philippines — has already been rejected by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which negotiates on behalf of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People's Army.

Duterte has guaranteed the safety of NDFP panel members, and of CPP founder and NDFP political consultant Jose Maria Sison, but the rebels say that would be like having the Philippine government panel come to CPP-NPA areas for talks.

Roque said a coalition government with communists is out of the question.

Roque's announcement came a day after the Armed Forces of the Philippines said the communists plan to overthrow Duterte.

"They have that particular plan and they have hatched that during the period we were conducting peace negotiations. Their deadline based on the information is October of 2018," Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesman, said.

'Stand-down agreement'

For peace talks to push though, the rebels must also stop collecting "revolutionary taxes" and cease hostilities. NPA fighters must also stay within their camps, Roque said.

According to documents that the NDFP released in early June, panels may already have agreed to cease hostilities and for fighters to stay in their camps.

The stand-down agreement was for a temporary cessation of hostilities as well as for measures to avoid the escalation of hostilities over potential situations. 

"Any movement of the respective armed troops and personnel of any party which may be considered as a provocative and or hostile act must be avoided," the supposed agreement reads.

The announcement of the agreement, meant to pave the way for the resumption of the talks in late June, was preempted by the president's decision to postpone the talks.

Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said the postponement was necessary for public consultation and to gather support for the peace process.

Roque said the postponement would also give Duterte time to study previous agreements with the rebels.

"The president will review the agreements because there are many acronyms used like JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees) and CAHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law). He said: 'I am overwhelmed by them. What are they?' So he will look into them one by one and see which ones are binding on the government itself and whether they are binding only on specific administrations," Roque said in a press briefing on June 21.

'Localized' peace talks

On Wednesday, Roque said that local government units may pursue "localized peace talks" with CPP-NPA units in their areas "provided they do not concede any aspect of governance and pursuant to guidelines to be agreed upon by the Cabinet cluster on security."

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has expressed support for the approach, saying that by leaving Sison out of the negotiations, "true peace will have a chance to become a reality and [Sison] will be consigned to the dustbin of history."

Lorenzana was reacting to Sison's statement that the rebels would rather help to oust Duterte since peace talks would be pointless under the current administration. Sison has since clarified that the CPP-NPA-NDFP had yet to decide to formally terminate the peace talks.

The CPP had already said "localized" peace talks will not work when these were proposed in 2017.

It said then that the proposal for separate talks with regional CPP and NPA units showed a "very shallow appreciation of the profound social problems which are at the root of the raging civil war in the Philippines."

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