MANILA -- Peace consultants on Tuesday slammed Malacañang’s mouthpiece for saying Norway might no longer be needed to facilitate peace talks between the Philippine government and communist rebels.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque had clarified that Norway could "continue to help the Philippines as a third-party facilitator of the peace talks."
President Rodrigo Duterte’s peace adviser, Secretary Jesus Dureza, blamed the ensuing controversy on "irresponsible journalism."
"I don’t think it is irresponsible journalism that was to blame here," said lawyer Rachel Pastores, legal consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines’ peace panel, noting members of her group had also heard Roque’s actual statement.
Roque’s office later released a transcript of his Monday press briefing, containing his statement on Norway: "Pero you know, any party who wants to help any and who’s been involved in the process can help ‘no. Pero ang punto lang ni Presidente eh hindi niya na maintindihan kung bakit kinakailangan pa sa ibang bansa ‘no ang pag-uusap."
But it omitted the part containing Roque’s response on whether Norway was still needed as a third-party facilitator since Malacañang wanted talks to be held in the Philippines.
His reply was: "Wala na po siguro. Nandito na naman tayo sa Pilipinas..."
Roque’s initial statement alarmed the NDFP panel, including those in the government side, given the implication of removing Norway, which has been serving as a third-party facilitator in the on-and-off talks for years.
In a joint statement signed in Oslo in 1994, the government and the NDFP panels agreed on Norway’s role as a third-party facilitator.
"Sa totoo lang, nakakahiya na bigla na lang ia-announce na di na natin kailangan yung third-party facilitator, after all the efforts they have done to assist the parties and come out successfully in every negotiation," Pastores told reporters, insisting the government could not "unilterally" make such a decision.
(To tell you the truth, such a hasty pronouncement that we will no longer need a third party facilitator is embarrassing, after all the efforts they have done to assist the parties and come out successfully in every negotiation.)
NDFP panel consultant Rey Casambre said the government should "get its act together," citing "contradictory" statements on developments in the peace negotiations.
In his Monday press briefing, Roque said denied that there was a stand-down agreement with the NDFP.
"Wala pong stand order agreement, stand-down agreement," he said. "Anyway, wala pa naman pong resumption of peace talks. I’m sure kung magkakaroon ng resumption of peace talks, that will be considered."
The government and NDFP panels signed such an agreement last June 8 during backchannel negotiations in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Both sides was supposed to simultaneously announce the stand-down deal a week before the resumption of formal talks on June 28.
It was supposed to be replaced by a more binding coordinated unilateral ceasefire, which would form part of the proposed interim peace agreement to be signed during formal negotiations.
Duterte postponed the resumption saying he needed more time to study the proposed deals.