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NDF peace talks back on track

EIGHTEEN detained peace consultants of the National Democratic Front (NDF) have been granted bail to enable them to join the formal peace talks with the Philippine government in Oslo, Norway, next week. The 18, along with two others covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), were released after the Solicitor General filed petitions with the Supreme Court which directed the lower courts concerned to give priority to hearings on motions for bail.

Leading the 20 who will be proceeding to Oslo this weekend are Benito Tiamzon, chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and his wife Wilma Tiamzon, secretary-general, who had been detained in Quezon City since they were arrested in Cebu in March, 2014.

They will be joined by other leaders of the NDF who met with President Duterte in Malacañang Tuesday. At the meeting were former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, Fidel Agcaoili, and Edre Olalia. They held preliminary talks with the government peace panel members led by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III. Presidential Peace Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza will lead the government panel in the Oslo talks.

The coming talks in Oslo will put President Duterte’s peace efforts with the Communist left back on track. At his State-of-the-Nation Address last July 25, it may be recalled, he announced a unilateral ceasefire with the rebel group. But it was answered with an ambush by the New People’s Army (NPA) that killed a militia man of the 60th Infantry Battalion in Davao del Norte.

This led to an exchange of angry words with CPP Founding Chairman Jose Ma. Sison who is now living in exile in the Netherlands. Sison followed it up with a withdrawal of support for Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign. The CPP then said it would issue its own statement on a joint ceasefire with the government to be made on August 20.

August 20 is the official start of the Oslo talks with negotiations proceeding in the succeeding days ending August 27 next week. President Duterte may have been too hopeful when he thought his initial move for an immediate ceasefire would succeed. It looks like it will be a much longer process as the Communist left is out to get something substantial from the government before it lays down its arms.

Thus the Oslo talks are expected to discuss such issues as socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, security and immunity guarantees, cessation of hostilities, and disposition of forces. It may be pointed out that these were among the issues that were taken up in the peace talks between the government and the Moro rebels that led to the Bangsamoro agreement.

The road to peace with the CPP, its military arm the NPA, and its political arm the NDF now looks a little more promising than before. We hope it will lead to a real agreement that will end the almost five decades-old NPA rebellion, the longest-running Communist insurgency in all of Asia.