GPH, NDF agree on 18-month time frame for peace talks

Manila, Feb. 22 – After a full week of hard bargaining on the negotiating table, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) today successfully concluded their first round of formal talks after a six-year impasse, with an agreement to complete the peace talks in 18 months.

In a joint statement released during a press conference in Oslo, Norway, the panels agreed to complete the draft comprehensive agreements on the remaining items of the agenda, such as the socio-economic reforms, political-constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

“The draft Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) may be completed and signed by the Panels in September 2011; the draft Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR) may be completed and signed by the Panels in February 2012; and lastly the draft Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (CAEHDF) may be completed and signed by the Panels in June 2012,” the statement said.

The two panels have also reactivated the Reciprocal Working Committees (RWCs) on SER that are set to conduct three bilateral meetings in the second week of June and the second and fourth weeks of August 2011, respectively.

On the CAPCR, they agreed to form their respective Working Groups, which will hold their initial session in April 2011 and every two months thereafter.

Further, the GPH and NDF panels reconvened the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

Related matters such as a process for consolidating HR and IHL complaints and possible conduct of joint investigations were likewise discussed.

On confidence-building measures

Apart from the unilateral ceasefires undertaken for the duration of the peace talks, both sides released prisoners as a measure of goodwill.

GPH chief negotiator Alexander Padilla, in his closing statement, said that the ceasefire is “one of several confidence-building measures that facilitated the participation of NDFP consultants Raffy Baylosis, Beth Principe and Randy Echanis in our talks.”

“On the other hand, the NPA (New People’s Army) has released a former soldier and two policemen, namely, retired Army Sgt. Mario Veluz, PO3 Jorge Sabatin and PO3 Jervel Tugade, all from Mindanao,” Padilla stated.

The GPH-NDF ceasefire agreement ended at 11:59 p.m. of Feb. 21, but both parties are open to declaring another break in fighting in the future.

“We are hoping for future ceasefires but that would be under negotiation with the NDF,” Padilla said.

NDF panel chair Luis Jalandoni, on the other hand, said that the possibility of having another ceasefire would depend on the reports of their rebel armed forces.

“That would be under study and evaluation but we will be getting the reports of the revolutionary forces on the ground and get the recommendations of our principals,” he related.

A ‘roller coaster ride’

Padilla and Jalandoni admitted how arduous the formal talks had been.

“Tonight concludes a week of hard bargaining between our two panels, GPH and NDF, and up to the last minute, literally, we were not sure whether we could come to terms enough to move the peace process to another round,” Padilla related.

Jalandoni likewise shared the same sentiment on the challenging negotiations. “It has been a roller coaster ride all the way. And until a few moments ago, no one was quite sure whether the talks will end up on a high or low point, or with milestones once more. Such is the nature of negotiations.”

However, “commonalities have propelled the process forward,” according to Padilla.

“But having spent this week breaking bread, arguing over grammar and syntax, periods and paragraphs, singing karaoke together, we know that comrades in arms can make the best comrades in peace, that is, if they so wish and they so will,” he said.

Jalandoni, on the other hand, stated that the two parties’ joint communiqué is “an eloquent proof of what the two panels can achieve.”

“We are drawn to common aspirations and principles in order to overcome inherent contradictions and contrasting perspectives,” the NDF panel chair stated.

The panels thanked the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) for its “able facilitation, hospitality and continuing support for the GPH-NDF peace negotiations.” It has been acting as Third Party Facilitator for the talks since 2001.

Also in attendance at the press conference were RNG Third Party Facilitation Team led by Ambassador Ture Lundh; NDF chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison; other members of the negotiating panels and the independent observers. #

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