I LIKE what I am seeing so far with regards to government’s willingness to reopen peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). The effort seems to be real, with the focus being on the coordinated unilateral ceasefire (CUC) proposal. What scuttled the previous talks were claims of ceasefire violations.
From what I understand from President Rodrigo’s statement upon his arrival in Davao yesterday after his recent trip abroad, he wants to dialogue first with rebel leaders before formal negotiations could resume. He imposed a two-month deadline for the completion of the dialogue wherein he would express his demands to the NDFP and presumably the rebels would be allowed to respond and to state their own demands.
The dialogue is meant to iron out some of the tricky issues that have led to the scuttling of the talks in the past, notably the formulation and implementation of a bilateral ceasefire. While the dialogue is ongoing, the CUC would be in place.
The president wants the talks would be held in the country, which is an interesting proposal considering how conscious the rebels are with security. That is precisely why they preferred to have the talks held in a neutral country. Besides, they have learned the lessons from the failed peace talks with the government under then president Corazon Aquino in the latter part of 1986 and early 1987.
That peace negotiation was localized, with talks held in provinces where organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and NDFP were strong. The Cebu version of the talks had the provincial government facing off with local NDFP negotiators that included the recently detained Fr. Rustico Tan. The rebels were allowed to temporarily hold office in a room at the Capitol.
The talks showed that even with a ceasefire in place, the two sides were actually doing some maneuverings away from the limelight. Both wanted to gain political and military advantage from the process. The NDFP was mainly concerned with political gains while the government was focused on military gains. The talks allowed the military to harvest tons of information because of the surfacing of rebel leaders and surveillance operation conducted.
Some of the NDFP peace panel members and consultants are former political detainees released by the government so they can join the talks. They can return to the country if they want to. Others, like Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison and Luis Jalandoni have sought refuge in other countries like the Netherlands for years already. Will they be willing to go home?
The question that would be in the minds of NDFP peace negotiators if the talks are held in the Philippines is what will happen if the talks get scuttled again? In the recent scuttling, the military and the police have attempted to rearrest the rebel leaders who were released because of the talks. The rebels know that while the talks are ongoing, they would be put under surveillance, thus their vulnerability when talks are scuttled.
I say the peace negotiations are entering another interesting phase.