Government to form localized peace panels for talks with Reds

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 21 2019 04:31 PM | Updated as of Mar 21 2019 04:32 PM

MANILA – The government will set up “localized” peace panels to deal with communist rebels, two officials said Thursday, in the wake of the termination of the state panel for peace talks with the communist National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

The dismantling of the government peace panel is seen as part of a transition to a new approach of the Duterte administration in dealing with the communist rebels.

Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. said Wednesday that a new panel composed of representatives from different sectoral groups, local government units, and the military will supervise localized peace engagements.

“The discontinuance of the services of the members of the [government] panel is in line with the termination of peace talks with the NDFP (National Democratic Front Panel). But we will reconstitute the panel at a national scope in accordance with the whole-of-nation approach we are advocating to achieve inclusive and sustainable peace,” Galvez said in a statement. 

In a letter dated March 18, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III that his role as chairman of the government’s peace negotiating panel “is hereby terminated immediately.”

Medialdea also sent letters to Antonio Arrelano, Angela Librado-Trinidad, Rene Sarmiento, and Hernani Braganza which said that their role as members of the government peace panel has also been terminated.

Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison blasted the government’s move, saying this shows “Duterte has no interest in the peace negotiations.”

Sison claimed the President uses the armed conflict “as an excuse for carrying out martial law nationwide and for railroading charter change to a bogus kind of federalism in order to realize and impose fascist dictatorship on the Filipino people.”

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Sison’s tirades show that the communist leader misunderstood the Palace order.

“There will be a creation of local panels. Doesn’t that favor them?” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.

Duterte signed Proclamation No. 360 on Nov. 23, 2017 declaring the termination of peace negotiations with the communist rebels. He had cited as the reason for the termination of the talks the supposed continued attacks by the leftist New People’s Army (NPA) on government troops despite ongoing talks.

“For 32 years, we didn’t gain anything from the talks, and it is being used by the CPP-NPA as a leverage for them to strengthen their forces and take advantage of the sincerity of the government,” said Galvez, a former military chief.

Another resumption of talks was scheduled in June last year but it was cancelled as the government sought to review all agreements the communists signed with past administrations.

In December last year, he signed Executive Order No. 70 directing the creation of a national task force to “end local communist armed conflict.” The EO allowed for the development of "local peace bodies" that will "engage and facilitate local peace engagements or negotiations and interventions."