UTRECHT, THE NETHERLANDS – Communist rebels are willing and very much ready to resume peace negotiations with the government if the latter is really serious, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines' chief negotiator said.
Last Friday, President Rodrigo Duterte hinted in a command conference in Pili town in Camarines Sur that his administration was still open to resuming the peace negotiation with the Reds.
He said he will “leave even a small opening” for the resumption of the peace negotiation as long as the rebels will not demand a coalition government.
Speaking from his office in Utrecht, The Netherlands, NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said the group did not terminate peace talks with the Philippine government.
"We were not the ones who terminated it. Duterte terminated the peace talks in November 2017. Then he declared the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization. The burden is on him whether he likes to resume or not," he said.
Agcaoili added that peace negotiations have always been NDFP’s priority as long as basic reforms—economic, social and political--in the Philippine society are addressed.
But so far, after the latest pronouncement of Duterte, nothing has happened yet.
“Kung ito ang estilo niya, tingnan na lang natin ang totoo o hindi,” he said.
(If that is his style, let’s just see whether it’s real or not.)
“The first time around, kahit small lang muna para magkalinawan lang what happened. And then saka na iyong formal. Sa informal, i-si-settle kung puwede bang mag-resume, ano ba ng pag-uusapan,” he said.
(For the first round, we can have it small just to clear matters. Then the formal talks can follow later. With informal talks, we can settle whether it is possible to resume the talks.)
Agcaoili, along with and NDF peace panel member Coni Ledesma, was supposed to come home in November 2018 to the Philippines in connection with their work as members of the NDFP section in the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). They would be accompanied by Luis Jalandoni, senior adviser of the NDFP Panel. They were due to meet the Norwegian ambassador and the government was also arranging a meeting between him and Duterte.
However, the trip was aborted at the advice of Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, head of the government peace panel, because the scheduled meeting with the President would no longer take place.
“Pauwi ako pero hindi na ako nag-proceed kasi sinabihan ako na huwag kasi baka daw ako arestuhin,” he said.
(I was supposed to come home but we did not proceed with it since I was told that I might get arrested.)
The peace negotiations which almost reached a significant agreement broke down in November 2017 after Duterte terminated the negotiations, saying he wanted more time to study all accords with the Reds even from past governments while at the same time declaring the CPP-NPA as terrorist organizations.
Meanwhile, Agcaoili also addressed the issue of Red tagging on certain organizations like the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and Party-list group Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). He said it has been the habit of the government to target organizations and call them communist fronts when they become too critical.
“Anti-communist witch-hunting ‘yan. Sasabihin nila komunista eh samantalang hindi naman. Intelihensiya lang ‘yan. Ang problema, ang kanilang tina-tag ay iyong nag-e-expose ng mga katiwalian sa gobyerno,” he said.
(That is anti-communist witch hunting. They will say they’re communists but in fact they’re not. They’re just intellectuals. The problem is they only tag those who are exposing anomalies in the government.)