‘Mountain of distrust hampers GRP-NDFP peace talks’

ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

OSLO – Norwegian Special Envoy to the Philippine peace process Elisabeth Slåttum of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said civil society should put pressure on the Philippine government (GRP, Government of the Republic of the Philippines) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to return to the negotiating table to address the substantive agenda in the peace process.

In a local peace forum on peace-building in the Philippines held in Oslo last June 5, Slåttum underscored the importance played by civil society, peace NGOs, civic and church organizations in pushing for the historic peace treaty signed in March 2014 between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“(The GRP-NDFP peace talks) is a lonely process and civil society is what we need. There should be a formal mechanism between the (negotiating) table and the ground. This is important to pressure (negotiating) parties to stay on the table and feel ownership of the process,” Slåttum said.

She cited the case of the Colombia peace process where three formal mechanisms were used to include civil society in the process: university-led people’s consultations were held where recommendations on land reform were submitted to the negotiating parties, a website was opened where the public could write their suggestions to the process, and sending of experts to the negotiating table in the Havana talks between the Colombian government and the guerrilla group, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).

“To have a sustainable peace, we need inclusion,” Slåttum further said, but also warned that too much inclusion may also disrupt the process so “balance is needed”.

She also admitted that the peace process involving the GRP and the NDFP has more downs than ups in the last 15 years and has been bogged down by procedural questions such as terrorist listing, ceasefire conditions, and releases of political prisoners.

“On the substantive agenda, things have not progressed (and) that is where we want to have more progress,” she pointed out.

She added the talks have also been hampered by the “mountain of distrust” between the two parties and that this needs to be addressed for the talks to move forward.

However, she expressed optimism that the talks will continue as Norway remains open to exploratory talks with both parties but also is not sure if the country “can get the parties back to the table and make that commitment” to move the process forward at this time.

“We should not lose faith, but it is important to be prepared when the time is right,” she emphasized in the meeting and reminded everyone that “the peace process is a marathon and not a sprint”.

NDFP still open to talks

Meanwhile, NDFP Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison, in an online interview told ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau that the NDFP is still open to exploratory talks with the Philippine government.

“Ang NDFP handa pa rin makipag-usap sa GPH,” Sison wrote to this reporter. He also said that this will be communicated to the Norwegian envoy in a letter to be sent by Louie Jalandoni, head of the NDFP Peace Negotiating Panel.

“(Jalandoni) just recommended to the NDFP National Executive Committee that the exploratory talks be continued in Oslo between the NDFP and GPH teams,” Sison added.

However, he also pointed out that “the filing of charges against Louie and the arrest of [NDFP consultant Adelberto] Silva and others in quick succession are all malicious and vicious and prejudice the continuance of the aforesaid exploratory talks.”

He also warned that “they can push the NDFP National Executive Committee to stop or delay the holding of the exploratory talks. However, Louie and I have not withdrawn our recommendations to let the exploratory talks continues”.

“These talks are still the way to discuss and agree on how to effect truce and cooperation and the compliance with existing agreements, especially JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees) and CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law),” Sison added.

“In this regard, the NDFP panel and consultants fully agree with the desire of the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) as third party facilitator that exploratory talks continue. Elisabeth (Slåttum) is doing excellent work in encouraging the NDFP and the GPH to continue the talks,” he further added.

The RNG has served as third party facilitator to the peace talks since 2001. The last formal talks was last held in 2011 where optimism was high after the Philippine government panel chief negotiator announced that a peace pact can be signed within 5 years. Since then, the process had been marred by ceasefire demands from the government panel and the arrests of NDFP consultants.

The NDFP is the umbrella organization of several revolutionary groups in the Philippines including the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA). It has been waging an armed communist struggle in the Philippines in the past four decades and is considered to be one of the longest running communist movements in the world.