MANILA – The government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace panels are eyeing the resumption of formal talks in August, government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III said Tuesday.
The fifth round of formal talks in late May were suspended after the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) ordered the New People’s Army (NPA) to intensify attacks and recruitment of fighters due to President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
Bello said the 2 sides will first hold informal talks on the third or last week of July, where socioeconomic reforms and the possible signing of an interim unilateral ceasefire will be high on the agenda. The two sides are eyeing informal talks to be held in Asia.
"Talks will be held so that by August, matters would be clearer and the outcome of the talks will be for submission to the panel for their approval,” Bello said.
He added the unilateral ceasefire declarations, which are not binding to the two sides, could be signed before or during the formal talks on the second or third week of August.
Bello said the two sides are also exploring the possibility of establishing a joint committee which shall monitor the unilateral ceasefire declarations of the two sides. This as the two sides have yet to establish a binding bilateral ceasefire.
"One of the issues there is, ‘who would be the referee?’ If there are violations, where do you run to?” he said.
Meanwhile, Bello downplayed Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s call for the government peace panel to hold off talks with the communists amid the latter’s armed attacks.
“Whenever the panel goes to the venue for the peace talks, we regularly consult the intelligence community of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The mere fact that we go to the venue of talks is an indication that their assessment is they are still the right person to talk to,” he said.
The peace talks between the government and the NDFP have been on and off under Duterte, who has accused the communists of being two-faced because of its continued armed attacks against government forces despite the ongoing peace talks.
While the fighting between communist rebels and governments continues to take place, Bello said skirmishes are expected since the two sides are in conflict, something which he said the peace talks can address.
"There is always hope for the peace process. There is no alternative. This is the best legacy that our president can give to our country - an enduring and lasting peace,” he said.