MANILA (UPDATED) - Malacañang on Monday said it prefers the peace talks with communist rebels to be held in the Philippines than held in a neutral country, even as Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison warned this could result in the end of the negotiations.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said a third-party negotiator may no longer be needed as President Rodrigo Duterte “does not understand” why there is a need for the peace talks to be held in another country.
Norway has been acting as the current third-party negotiator in the on-and-off peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political arm of the CPP.
“Let’s just say as far as the President is concerned, venue matters. He does not understand why we should continue talking in Norway. Pare-pareho naman tayong Pilipino. Bakit kailangan lumayo pa?” Roque said in a press briefing.
Roque later clarified Norway can continue helping in the peace process.
"Norway can continue to help the Philippines as a third party facilitator of the peace talks, as I mentioned during this morning’s press briefing," he said in a statement Monday night.
"We hope this sets the record straight that what I said is any peace negotiation that would be entered into by the Philippine government and communist rebels should be held inside the country," Roque added.
Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza, in a separate statement, also said there is no truth to reports Norway is being "removed" as facilitator in the peace talks.
"In fact, I am now in Oslo, Norway to attend an international forum on conflict mediation and to express our country's gratitude for Norway's significant and continuing support to the long drawn peace negotiations with the Left," he said.
He also said he will explain to Norway why the resumption of the peace talks was pushed back.
"I am also here to explain to them the reason why the planned resumption of the peace talks discussed during back-channel meetings was reset," Dureza said.
"Norway, in spite of the challenges we face in the long negotiations, have remained patient, resilient and steadfast in its help to the Filipino people," he added.
Duterte has been repeatedly inviting Sison, the NDFP’s chief political consultant, to come back to the Philippines following three decades of exile in Europe.
A face-to-face meeting here between Duterte and Sison was in the works before the Philippine leader put off the resumption of formal peace talks, documents showed.
But the homecoming of Sison, who has been on self-exile in The Netherlands since 1987, was still “subject to the necessary political, legal, security and technical requirements.”
While Sison was preparing for a homecoming, he insisted that a third-party venue was still necessary for the formal talks. He said in an Inquirer interview that Duterte dictating the venue of the talks “where he can conduct surveillance and control” will spell the end for the negotiations.