GPH reiterates hope to settle conflict with NDF fast

Manila, Feb. 18 – Government chief negotiator Alexander Padilla on Tuesday said they are looking forward to settling the armed conflict with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) fast so they can work together as partners in finding solutions to the problems the country has been facing.

“We are again emphasizing that we hope to do this as fast as we could so they can help us as partners in trying to solve the problems,” he stated during an informal interview with the media at the opening of the week-long formal talks between the government and the NDF in Oslo, Norway.

Both parties agreed to hold formal negotiations on February 15-21 after six years of impasse. The talks are being brokered by the Royal Norwegian Government, which has been acting as Third Party Facilitator since 2001.

“We have high hopes that this will be the start, the beginning of a real honest-to-goodness process for a just and equitable peace settlement between both parties that will lead to concrete benefits for our people,” Padilla related.

He also said that the government is hoping that both parties will “remain focused on these efforts” to “accomplish this hopefully within three years or maybe much, much less.”

The agenda of the formal talks include the remaining substantive issues, such as socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

Likewise part of the agenda is the reconvening of the Joint Monitoring Committee of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the NDF to discuss matters on the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), which is the first agreement reached by both sides under the substantive agenda.

On future ceasefire

Padilla said that the government will always be ready to declare a ceasefire with the NDF again.

“Any ceasefire that lessens violence – the incidence of violence – will always be good I think not only for both sides but the entire Filipino people,” he stated.

NDF panel chair Luis Jalandoni, who was interviewed alongside Padilla, said that if the previous ceasefires have been successful then another truce will be possible.

“We’ll be getting reports from the ground, from the rebel armed forces throughout the Philippines to check how well was it carried out. They could also recommend if that could be done again in order to improve the atmosphere for the continuation of the formal peace talks,” he said.

Padilla, on the other hand, has been hoping to have positive assessment of the ceasefire for the entire duration of the formal talks agreed upon by both parties. “We have positive assessments of the ceasefire in December. We hope again to get a positive assessment of this one-week ceasefire, and hopefully again for the future ceasefires.”

Gov’t efforts on APO issue

On the issue of NDF political prisoners who are allegedly protected by the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), Padilla said that both parties have been tackling this through a side table mechanism.

Side table mechanisms have been established by the GPH and the NDF to review and address procedural and non-substantive issues such as JASIG implementation, the release of alleged political prisoners (APOs), and confidence-building and goodwill measures.

Last month, the NDF demanded the release of 17 of its political prisoners before formal talks resume. The GPH panel agreed to work, on best effort basis, for the speedy release of NDF consultants protected by JASIG in the spirit of goodwill.

“We did everything we could,” Padilla said. “We facilitated the passport or exit visas of I think three or four of their current consultants now.”

He added that they are still reviewing the other incidents and cases. “I think we’ve done our utmost best to try and live up to our agreements. And I think it’s just a matter of time also that we are reviewing the other cases.”

On this, Jalandoni appreciated the efforts of the GPH panel in making it possible for some NDF consultants, such as Rafael Baylosis, to participate in the negotiations.

“We know that the GPH panel and Atty. (Pablito) Sanidad are working very hard to get the expeditious release. And as we have agreed last time, there will be continuous efforts to get the release of these NDF consultants before the second round of formal talks. We are also bringing up the effective steps needed for the release of about 350 political prisoners,” he said. #

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