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An added good sign for Oslo peace talks

WHEN the second round of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) begins today in Oslo, Norway, a delegation from the House of Representatives will be sitting with the government panel.

Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra Sema of Maguindanao heads the House group which will join the government panel led by the chief peace negotiator Secretary of Labor Silvestre Bello III. The two sides are scheduled to exchange drafts on a proposed bilateral ceasefire and will craft an amnesty proclamation for those in the decades-long rebellion of the New People’s Army, the military arm of the CPP. They will also begin talks on the more substantial issues of social and economic reforms.

Congress has a big role in the peace process, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, a member of the five-member House delegation, said. At the end of the series of talks, when agreement is finally reached on the reforms sought by the CPP-NDF-NPA, it will be brought before Congress for the necessary legislation to carry them out.

This is where the previous administration failed in its efforts for peace in Mindanao through an agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The government panel formed by Malacañang held several meetings with MILF officials here and abroad and came up with an agreement which was signed in Malacañang.

But when the agreement, in the form of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), was sent to Congress, it was found wanting in so many ways. The Senate junked the BBL bill, which it found to be filled with unconstitutional provisions, and drew up a substitute bill. In the House, the bill got nowhere as the chamber never managed to gather a quorum in the final days of the 16th Congress.

The participation of the House panel in the Oslo peace talks will enable the House to make its contributions to the drafting of the social and economic reforms that will be at the heart of the peace agreement. It would be so much better if, in succeeding rounds, a panel from the Senate will also be able to join the discussions.

This is only the second round of the peace talks. Many more sessions are scheduled before a final agreement is reached by August next year. The negotiations have begun so well and the House move to join the talks is an added good sign for their success.