Government, NDF to discuss resolution of conflict

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Government, NDF to discuss resolution of conflict
Image provided by the Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows Special Assistant to the President Antonio Lagdameo (left) and Luis Jalandoni of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines shaking hands after signing a Joint Statement for Peace in Oslo on Nov. 23.

MANILA, Philippines — The government and communist rebels have agreed to start fresh negotiations to end a decades-old armed conflict, raising hopes that a historic final settlement would be signed within the term of President Marcos.

The Marcos administration and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the political wing of the communist insurgents, agreed to a “principled and peaceful resolution” to the conflict in a joint statement dated Nov. 23 and signed in Oslo, Norway.

“Cognizant of all serious socioeconomic and environmental issues and the foreign security threats facing the country, the parties recognized the need to unite as a nation in order to urgently address these challenges and resolve the reasons for the armed conflict,” the statement, formally called the Oslo Joint Communiqué, read.

“The parties agreed that a principled and peaceful resolution of the armed conflict, resolving the roots of the armed conflict and ending the armed struggle shall pave the way for the transformation of the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army- National Democratic Front).”

According to the statement, the two parties “acknowledged the deep-rooted socioeconomic and political grievances and agreed to come up with the framework that sets the priority for the peace negotiation with the aim of achieving the relevant socioeconomic and political reforms towards a just and lasting peace.”

“Such framework that will set the parameters for the final peace agreement shall be agreed upon by both parties. Consequently, we envision and look forward to a country where united people can live in peace and prosperity,” it added.

Special Assistant to the President Antonio Lagdameo Jr. and NDFP National Executive Council member Luis Jalandoni signed the statement. Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., former armed forces chief Emmanuel Bautista, NDFP negotiating panel interim chair Julieta de Lima and panel member Connie Ledesma witnessed the signing.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Galvez said a final peace agreement with the communists is “very achievable” within Marcos’ term.

“The President is very positive. Based on our briefing, the perspective is good. Even the other party, they are very confident and cordial. We had a good experience in Oslo,” Marcos’ peace adviser said.

Galvez said a timeline for the peace talks is still under discussion but it would “most likely” start before the end or in the middle of the first quarter of next year.

Filipino communists have been waging an armed struggle against the government for more than 50 years, making it the longest-running Maoist insurgency in Asia.

In 2017, then president Rodrigo Duterte terminated the peace negotiations with the rebels, citing what he described as their “acts of violence and hostilities” and their supposed failure to show sincerity in pursuing lasting peace.

In the same year, Duterte issued Proclamation No. 374 declaring the CPP and the NPA as terrorist organizations.

The former president had also accused the communists of pushing for a coalition government, a power-sharing setup that he said would violate the Constitution.

Clean slate

According to Galvez, the government and the NDFP are starting a new peace negotiation, not resuming the one that was stopped under the previous administration.

“Resumption is different. When you say resumption, it was interrupted. Here, we will start anew,” he said.

Despite the breakthrough, security forces will still conduct law enforcement operations against the rebels.

“As Secretary Galvez has said, these are preliminary exploratory talks and all programs, security law enforcement programs of the government shall continue,” Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said.

The military and police welcomed the development, saying it would allow them to focus on other security concerns.

“For the Armed Forces of the Philippines, this is very good news for us, because it is the soldier more than anybody else who wants lasting peace, who wants this conflict to finally end... So this is really a personal victory for us. And aside from that, if this conflict will finally end, your Armed Forces of the Philippines will be able to shift our focus to external or territorial defense,” Armed Forces chief Gen. Romeo Brawner said.

“I hope this will lead really to a long and lasting peace and I look at it as a way of adding more food to the table of the Filipinos and instead of spending more money on ammunition and other armaments, we will have more resources for infrastructure that will help us attain maximum development,” Philippine National Police chief Gen. Benjamin Acorda Jr. said.

National Security Adviser Eduardo Año said it’s about time to have “closure” to the communists’ armed struggle.

NDFP smells deception

While welcoming fresh negotiations for peace with the government, the NDFP said President Marcos’ offer of amnesty to armed rebel groups through Proclamation 404 “reeks of deception.”

In a statement, the NDFP said Proclamation 404 “appears to be a tool of coercion rather than a genuine effort to foster peace.”

“Instead of creating an environment conducive for peace, it reeks of deception intended to force the revolutionary movement to surrender,” it said.

A key point of contention, it added, is the requirement for rebels to admit guilt as a precondition for freedom under the amnesty program.

The President, in his amnesty proclamation, has also failed to address the fate of over 800 political prisoners, many of whom are facing charges not covered by the proclamation.

The group also bewailed that despite the President’s amnesty proclamation, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) “continues to unleash a brutal campaign of suppression using the Anti-Terror Law as a weapon.”

It added that Marcos’ attaching stringent conditions to his amnesty program reveals his lack of understanding of the socio-economic and political conditions that gave birth and sustained the insurgency.

“This opportunistic maneuvering not only undermines the credibility of the amnesty program but also risks exacerbating tensions by framing peace as a political tool of coercion rather than a societal necessity,” the NDFP said. — Mark Ernest Villeza

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