Revived peace talks a result of backchanneling â Bello
Bello noted that upon instruction of President Duterte, he has been negotiating with Sison through backchannels even after the peace talks between the two parties bogged down.
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Revived peace talks a result of backchanneling — Bello

Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - December 7, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said yesterday that the possible resumption of peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is a result of his backchannel negotiations with the rebel group’s founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison.

Bello noted that upon instruction of President Duterte, he has been negotiating with Sison through backchannels even after the peace talks between the two parties bogged down.

Because of this, he claimed he was not surprised when Duterte suddenly announced last Thursday that he instructed him to explore possible resumption of the peace talks with the communist rebels.

“What I was surprised (with) was that he made the announcement. I am really supposed to go there (Ultretch) through backchanneling,” Bello told The STAR.  

Bello, who used to head the government peace panel in previous negotiations with the insurgents, hinted that he will leave this week.

“The President just asked me to talk to them and tell them that we can resume the talks here in the Philippines. That is his request,” he added.

Duterte is also requesting that the negotiations be conducted simultaneous with a ceasefire between the two parties. 

According to DOLE spokesman Rolly Francia, the President’s instruction is a “slap in the face” of those accusing Bello of committing graft, usurpation and treason over alleged excessive foreign travels. 

Last month, a certain Adolfo Paglinawan of Quezon City filed complaints with the Office of the Ombudsman. 

He claimed that included in the travels are Bello’s meeting with Sison in the Netherlands.

Francia said that the President’s instruction to Bello simply confirms his assertions that his travels and backchannel talks with Sison were authorized by the President.

In March 2017, Duterte terminated the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front-CPP-New People’s Army (NDF-CPP-NPA).

The negotiations were terminated after Duterte accused the rebels of continuously attacking government troops despite the ongoing peace negotiations. 

Duterte admitted that there are times a person has to retract what he says in public, pertaining to the many times that he said he would not go back to the negotiating table with the NDF-CPP-NPA.

“Anyway, there can never be a statement that would end finality in everything that you say in public. I can only say that, ‘That’s it. I do not want to talk to you guys. Forget it.’ But you know when you are there and I am there and I have a… We – three times we attempted to talk sense and always failed,” the President said before the weekend in Legazpi City.

Duterte said that at this point he could not stop the effort to attain peace.

“Ang ano ko ngayon, I cannot stop. Hindi ko pwedeng sabihin, ayaw ko na makipag-usap (I cannot say I don’t want to talk to you). That is not a statement of a leader, of a President. Alam ko ‘yung mga military. But you know you should understand that the quest for the longing for peace is always there. And not for the military and the police but for everybody. Kailangan the doors must be open always or there must be at least one channel if everything closes na pwede mong paki-usapan (where we can talk),” the President said.

Duterte said that although the security situation in Quezon province has improved, the Bicol region remains a hotbed of communist insurgency.

“Quezon medyo maganda na. But ang Bicol, we have a problem, a serious problem of insurgency,” he said.

This developed as one NPA rebel was killed on Thursday morning when communist guerrillas clashed with Army troopers in Barangay Durian, Las Nieves, Agusan del Norte.

Lt. Col. Francisco Molina Jr., chief of the Army’s 23rd Infantry Battalion, said the still unidentified rebel was killed when some 50 guerrillas encountered government troops.

The soldiers later discovered nearby a makeshift rebel camp and recovered one generator set, one AK-47 rifle, two M-16 rifles, four laptops, 21 backpacks, two sacks of rice, food and medicine.

The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) has expressed support for the resumption of peace talks between the NDF and the government.

Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said the talks should pave the way for a just and lasting peace, not just a temporary ceasefire.

The stakes are quite high as the people want the root causes of the armed conflict to be decisively addressed, he added.

Reyes said the peace talks are much better than any militarist approach to the insurgency.

“The all-out war waged by the AFP against the people has targeted mostly civilians. There is a rising number of extrajudicial killings, arrests, involuntary disappearances, displacement of communities and other forms of harassment,” he said.

“Since the collapse of the peace talks, the military has only succeeded in forcing unarmed farmers to pose as rebel surrenderees to make it appear that the government is winning the war.”

He said unless the social causes of armed conflict are addressed, the militarist approach will only lead to more human rights violations and force the people to resist.

Reyes said that there is a need for the government to dismantle the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict and replace it with a new peace panel.

The executive should withdraw Executive Order 70, the framework for de facto martial law, and replace it with a policy of serious peace negotiations for the benefit of the people.

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar expressed hope yesterday that the resumption of talks with the communist rebels would finally bear fruit within the last years of the administration.

“We are looking for a peaceful option to end this conflict as these five decades of armed struggle and resistance by the communist party against the Philippine government must eventually come to an end,” Andanar said.

He also appealed to CPP founder Sison and his comrades to finally agree to a better peace agreement to put an end to the five-decade struggle.

“We hope in good faith that Mr. José María Sison will seriously reconsider the government’s proposal that will be presented by Secretary Bello,” he said. –  With Christina

Mendez, Rhodina, Edith Regalado, Villanueva, Ben Serrano

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