GRP-NDF 3rd round of talks ends with major breakthroughs

MANILA -- It used to be just a dream to end the five decade of insurgency in the Philippines but with the efforts and dedication exerted by the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), they see light at the end of the tunnel.

This is what the two panels feel after major breakthroughs happened when they ended a "difficult but successful" third round of formal peace negotiations in discussions on socio-economic reforms, the second agenda of the talks to end the almost half-century long communist armed struggle.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process(OPAPP) in a statement Thursday said after a week of meetings in Rome, Italy, from Jan.19 to 25, the parties achieved advances on six major issues contained in their common agenda. These are:

(1)Breakthrough in the discussion of socio-economic reforms and achieving understanding on its first four items, including agrarian reform and rural development;

(2)Signing of the ground rules on the work of the Reciprocal Working Committees on Socio-Economic Reforms;

(3)Exchange of drafts and initial discussions on political and constitutional reforms;

(4)Signing of supplemental guidelines on the Joint Monitoring Committee for the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law;

(5)Submission by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) of its proposal for a bilateral ceasefire and the parties' agreement to discuss it in February in The Netherlands; and,

(6)Agreement to a fourth round of formal peace talks in Oslo, Norway in the first week of April.

With these accomplishments, both parties talked on the possible release of 392 NDFP-listed political prisoners with the government again committing to facilitate the release of the three remaining NDFP consultants.

They are Eduardo Sarmiento, Emeterio Antalan and Leopoldo Caloza through presidential clemency or other legal means. The three have been convicted of criminal charges.

The rebel and government negotiators also discussed the possible implementation of socio-economic projects related to the Joint Agreement in Support of Socioeconomic Projects of Private Development Organizations and Institutes of March 16, 1998.

"The parties have been constructive and solution-oriented. And it is very clear to us as facilitators that both sides are genuinely committed to work towards achieving peace," Royal Norwegian Government Special Envoy to the Philippine Peace Process Elisabeth Slattum said.

"Well, it has been difficult but successful. That is the only way I can describe this round," NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said.

Agcaoili clarified though that he expected the successful conclusion of the negotiations on the supplemental guidelines on the JMC, the tentative agreement on the PCR, the movement on the discussion on SER, as well as on its ground rules.

As expected, negotiations on socio-economic reforms took center stage in Rome.

"The RWCs-SER agreed in principle to the free distribution of land to farmers and farm workers as part of the governing frame of Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER)," the joint statement released by OPAPP stated.

"While our discussions in the past days have been exacting, we were not deterred from exploring new ways and other platforms to advance the talks," Chief Peace Negotiator Silvestre Bello III said.

The ground rules of the CASER, he added, "display our seriousness to tackle the agreement on socio-economic reforms."

He later asked the participants and witnesses to the closing ceremony to offer a minute of prayer for the quick recovery of Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman and NDFP chief political consultant Jose Ma. Sison, who was hospitalized Tuesday night for flu. (PNA)

Source: Philippines News Agency