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Stick to main issues for peace talks to progress – GPH

Cebu City, Philippines – Government of the Philippines (GPH) chief negotiator Alexander Padilla underlined the need to focus on the main issues for peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) to move forward.

“If both sides agree to stick to the main comprehensive agreements and not the side agreements, then there’s a chance for talks to progress,” he stated during the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform’s 2nd Ecumenical Church Leaders Summit on Peace held recently at the Betania Retreat House in Lahug, Cebu City.

Formal negotiations between the two sides, which have not resumed since it was held last February 2011, will already reach one year of impasse by next week.

“We don’t want to waste another 72 years to finish the three main agreements,” Padilla said, referring to the social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces that are set to be tackled on the negotiating table.

Padilla also clarified that “the GPH had never announced an indefinite postponement of the talks. We had acknowledged in press interviews that it would be difficult to hold talks in light of the preconditions” where the NDFP continues to demand the release of  all their political prisoners before the talks could carry on.

“There is nothing seen from the NDFP's side that would show a remotely vague aspiration for peace,” he added, while referring to released statements of the CPP which called for intensified armed struggle by launching “bigger and more frequent tactical offensives.”

Padilla emphasized that despite the challenges and roadblocks, the government will not be the first one to leave the negotiating table.

Continued demand for prisoner releases

Soon after the first formal panel-to-panel talks in Oslo in February, preparations were underway for a drafting of a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms by both sides, to be followed by an exchange of drafts and formal discussion in talks scheduled for June.  The next formal talks would then follow in September. The June talks were at the level of reciprocal working committees of GPH and CPP-NPA-NDFP.  The latter called off the talks on the ground that no prisoners  had been released.

Failed verification process

The CPP-NPA-NDFP conveniently left out the fact that JASIG-protected individuals would be released for formal talks, not talks at the committee level, and would be "subject to verification" as stated in the Oslo Joint Communique in February.  But the verification process failed because NDFP lists contained in safety deposit boxes stored in a Netherlands bank and opened in July contained no photographs, as originally stipulated, with matching aliases written on the backs of the photographs to verify the identities of alleged JASIG consultants.  Instead, the sealed envelopes contained diskettes with files that could no longer be decrypted. With a failed verification process, releases could not proceed.

Releases as confidence-building measure not as precondition

In an August 24, 2011 statement, the government panel said “This was in clear violation of the JASIG Supplemental Agreement which required separate photographs and not encrypted pictures in a diskette. The end result being then that none of their alleged consultants could therefore be verified. If none could be verified, there was no obligation on the part of government to release and that should any be made, the same was part of government’s confidence building measures.”

In fact, the government had already released five of NDFP's alleged priority consultants after going through proper court proceedings as part of confidence-building measures. However, two of the five were reported to have resumed underground work, contrary to the agreement that JASIG serves to provide free movement to those participating in the peace process at the level of formal talks.

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