Duterte rules out facilitator in peace talks

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte does not want a third party facilitator in the peace negotiations between the government and communist rebels.

The President also wants the peace talks to be held in the Philippines.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte emphasized that the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines–New People’s Army–National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) hold the negotiations on Philippine soil instead of Norway.

Norway had acted as facilitator since 2001.

“Whatever process needs to be undertaken will be undertaken but the President has emphasized that this is the talks between Filipinos, it should be held in the Philippines. Hindi naman po kinakailangan pa na mangibang-bayan para makapag-usap ng kapayapaan lamang dahil tayong lahat ay Pilipino (We don’t need to go abroad just to talk peace because we are all Filipinos),” Roque told reporters.

He said the Philippine government would relay to Norway Manila’s decision to change the venue.

“We have a panel and they have the authority to fix the logistics,” the Palace official added.

On Thursday, the President canceled the resumption of formal talks in Oslo, Norway, scheduled for June 28. The date was agreed upon by government and NDF negotiators in a series of back-channel talks.

The President insisted that the talks be held in the Philippines next month but gave no specific dates.

CPP founding chairman Jose Maria “Joma” Sison however is against holding formal talks in the Philippines, saying this will spell doom for the negotiations aimed at ending the 50-year communist insurgency.

Roque said the President is bent on pursuing the peace process with the communists.

“The President has always given top priority to the peace talks with both the Muslim insurgents and the communist insurgents and he has not given up at the process at all,” he said.

However, he noted that any peace agreement “must be all inclusive and must pass the test of both legal and political scrutiny.”

“The delay, thus, in the talks with the CPP-NPA is indispensable if we are to have an agreement that will pass these tests. It would help if Mr. Joma Sison would allow the government to be the one to brief the nation on any future developments,” Roque said.

Asked about Sison’s statement that “it’s the end of peace negotiations if Duterte will dictate the venue,” Roque said, “That will be sad but I’m sure that statement will not be conclusive kung anuman magiging outcome ng usapin (whatever the outcome will be).”

“The President is dead serious about it. He has already asked the DoJ (Department of Justice) to file the necessary motions in court to set free individuals who will be participating in the talks and I think that is the best evidence of good faith on the part of the government,” he added.

Roque refused to comment on the release of a signed “stand-down” agreement signed on June 8 in Utrecht, the Netherlands by government panel chairman Silvestre Bello 3rd, Hernani Braganza and Angela Librando-Trinidad. NDF panel chair Fidel Agcaoli, and members Julieta de Lima and Asterio Palma signed for the other side.

“Walang pong stand-down agreement (There’s no signed stand down agreement). But we find it somehow irregular that the NDF has taken upon itself the role of informing the public of what has been or what has not been agreed upon. I think out of deference to the government, they should await government’s announcement and should not preempt government in making these announcements,” he said.

The document was set for release by both parties a week before the supposed resumption of the fifth round of peace talks, which was slated on June 28 in Oslo, Norway.

However, on June 14, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said the negotiations would “not happen as originally set and as originally announced by the media.” He said more consultations with the public were needed.

The NDF is waiting for representatives from the government to give a thorough explanation on why the resumption of peace talks was dropped.

The peace talks were scuttled in November last year, which the government blamed on continued attacks by the rebels on government troops and civilians.

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