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Peace hopes high as Oslo talks begin

A comprehensive peace agreement is still some months away but the talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) opened with great optimism on both sides last Friday, with Norway hosting the talks in Oslo.

The two sides led by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and Government Panel Chairman Silvestre Bello III for the Philippine government and CPP Founding Chairman Jose Ma. Sison and NDF Peace Panel Chairman Luis Jalandoni for the NDF signed a joint declaration in which they committed to unilateral ceasefires without any time limitation. This should immediately stop the shooting between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (NPA), the military arm of the NDF and CPP.

The two sides agreed to accelerate the timetable on their talks on the other key issues, notably socio-economic reforms, including land reform and national industrialization. They will return in Oslo on October 8 for Round 2 of the negotiations. They hope to reach agreement within six months.

The talks may be expected be as comprehensive as those that were held between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during the Aquino administration that resulted in the Bangsamoro agreement. It is unfortunate that the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that arose from that agreement met an untimely end in Congress, principally because many of its provisions were deemed unconstitutional and offensive to the nation’s sense of unity and sovereignty.

The Oslo peace negotiators should learn from the Bangsamoro experience and be open in all their discussions so there will be no reason for charges later that the Philippine government had conceded too much to the other side.

The NPA rebellion in the Philippines is the longest-running Communist insurgency in all of Asia, dating back to 1969 – 47 years ago. The administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came close to reaching an agreement with the rebels in 2007 but talks broke down on the issue of amnesty and the fighting resumed.

From its start, the new administration of President Duterte has expressed its desire to forge an agreement with the NPA-NDF-CPP, even offering some Cabinet positions to the group. With this openness to talks and evident readiness to make the needed concessions, hopes are high that this decades-old rebellion will soon finally come to an end.