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Peace talks have a long way to go

Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Founding Chairman Jose Ma. Sison has been off and on in his statements on whether he will visit Manila to meet with President Duterte on the stalled peace talks between the Philippine government and the CPP-New People’s Army (NPA)-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

But the CPP-NPA-NDFP has not moved from its stand that the peace talks must continue abroad, not in the Philippines.

When President Duterte cancelled the scheduled resumption of the talks this June 28-30, he said he wanted to consult the nation as a whole – in his words “to engage the bigger peace table, the general public as we negotiate peace with the Communist rebels.” He said then he could not understand why the talks have to be held in another country when “we are all Filipinos.” He then invited Sison to come home.

Sison agreed then to come to Manila after back-channel negotiations in Utrecht, The Netherlands, where Sison has lived in self-exile since the 1980s. Sison appeared confident he would be able to return to Utrecht under the “necessary political, legal, security, and technical requirements” contained in a document signed last June 9.

Sison, however, is not the CPP-NPA-NDFP, which has its leaders who have been calling the shots on the ground in the Philippines while Sison was in the Netherlands. Some of these leaders are now confined in Philippine prisons on various charges; many others remain at large. They also see the foreign talks as giving them status akin to equality, which they would not have if the talks were held here under total Philippine laws and jurisdiction. With Norway as “facilitator,” it does seem as if it was mediating between two countries.

This should not be the case, the President said, and other Philippine officials have come out to support his stand, among them Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Aquilino Pimentel III, JV Ejercito, and Panfilo Lacson. “I cannot understand for the life of me why we need a third-country facilitator for an all-Filipino conflict,” Lacson said.

A face-to-face meeting between President Duterte and Sison would be a big step forward, but there would still a long way to go. The leaders on the ground, those who have been leading the CPP, the NPA, and the NDFP right here in the Philippines, those who have been fighting the government all these decades in the mountains and other remote areas of the country – they must be reached. They must be convinced that the goals they seek for the Philippines can be achieved through more peaceful means.