Peace pact likely within 18 months
MANILA - After being stuck for six years, the just-concluded resumption of formal peace talks between the Philippine government and communist rebels held in Oslo, Norway, brought a high note of optimism with both sides looking forward to reach a peace pact in 2012.
The peace panels of both the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and National Democratic Front (NDF) agreed to meet again in April and every two months thereafter in a bid to resolve Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency.
The formal talks were held on Feb. 15-21 with the Royal Government of Norway as the third party facilitator.
“The return to the formal peace table and our accomplishments during this first round of talks are indications of the desire of both parties to work together in resolving our differences and finally bring about peace, development, an end to poverty, and the restoration of justice, decency and civility in our land,” Alexander Padilla, chair of the GPH peace panel said in a press statement.
Padilla said the Philippine government hopes that a comprehensive agreement on socio-economic reforms will be signed in September 2011 to be followed with an accord on political and constitutional reforms in February 2012 and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces by June or August 2010.
The New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has been fighting an insurgency war since 1969. The 41 years of warfare being mounted by the NPA is Asia’s longest-running insurgency.
From a fighting force of 25,600 at its peak in 1986, the NPA’s strength has been drastic cut down to over 4,000 as of December 2010 as result of combat casualties and mass surrender through the years.
Talks during the past 24 years had been off-and-on, the last of which was in August 2005 when the NDF pulled out from the negotiating table after the United States and the European Union (EU) tagged the NDF as a terrorist organization.
However, back-channeling efforts continued during the period to keep the doors open for the resumption of formal talks.
On Dec. 1, 2010, informal talks were held in Hong Kong where Padilla and Luis Jalandoni, chair of the NDF peace panel, agreed to hold one informal peace talks in Norway in January 2011 before resuming formal talks on Feb. 15-21.
Padilla said the weeklong negotiations in Oslo were “frank, candid and held in the spirit of goodwill characterized by respect for one another’s position.”
During the entire duration of the talks, both the government and NDF agreed to have a ceasefire.
However, both sides reported alleged violations of the truce.
In his statement, Padilla said the talks in Oslo had found “us on the zigzag path to peace,” but nevertheless “we have taken the first step.”
“We hope to have laid the groundwork for a just and lasting peace within the first three years of the Aquino administration,” he added.
During the Oslo talk, Padilla said the government peace panel raised the issue of the so-called revolutionary tax.
Padilla also said that the terror tag on the NPA would not be a hindrance to the talks because it was the US that made the tag and the Philippine government has no jurisdiction.
Ambassador Ture Lundh led the Norwegian government third party facilitation team during the talks in Oslo.