GRP, NDFP conclude 3rd peace talks in Rome; commit to move the process forward

ROME, Italy(PNA) -- Peace negotiators of the Government of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) concluded the third round-of-talks with both parties committed to agreed to address contentious issues on the bilateral ceasefire, amnesty and releases, the Socioeconomic Reforms (SER) and the Political and Constitutional Reforms (PCR) in succeeding meetings.

In an eight-page Joint Statement signed by the chief negotiators Secretary Silvestre Bello III of the GRP and NDFP chair Fidel Agcaoili and members of their panel, both parties remained committed to pursue the peace process.

While both parties were not able to seal a joint bilateral ceasefire, they agreed that ceasefire committees would meet separately to discuss the issue next month.

The NDFP ceasefire committee has formally acknowledged receiving the GRP draft Agreement on an Interim Bilateral Cessation of Hostilities between the GRP and the NDFP.

It promised to seriously study the proposal and provide an updated version. The ceasefire committees have scheduled to meet on February 22 to 27 in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

On the issue of releases, both parties agreed to continue to study the issuance of an amnesty proclamation consequent to the substantial progress of the peace negotiations with GRP panel assurance to facilitate the release of the three remaining NDFP consultants Eduardo Sarmiento, Emeterio Antalan and Leopoldo Caloza through presidential clemency and other legal modes.

The GRP likewise committed to expeditiously process the release of all the political prisoners listed by the NDFP starting with the 200 qualified prisoners either through bail, recognizance, pardon or other legal processes in compliance with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and to allow them to participate in activities and mechanisms of the peace process.

The government panel will also work on the extension of the temporary liberty of the NDFP consultants and staff who were granted bail and released in August 2016 allowing them to continue participate during the duration of the peace negotiations.<>On top of the commitments to move forward the issues of the bilateral ceasefire and releases, both parties have also set the ground rules for the conduct of the formal meetings between the panels of the Reciprocal Working Committees (RWCs) SER.

The RWCs-SER agreed in principle to the free distribution of land to farmers and farm workers as part of the governing framework of CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on SER).

They also created bilateral teams to help reconcile contentious provisions in the GRP and NDFP drafts. In the next round of talks, the RWCs-SER will discuss the remaining issues under the Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, National Industrialization and Economic Development, Environmental Protection, Rehabilitation and Compensation and the outputs of the bilateral team.

On the other hand, the Reciprocal Working Groups (RWGs) on PCR formally exchanged full drafts of the tentative agreement on PCR based on the common outline agreed upon during the last round of talks last October 2016.

One of the issues tackled in the meeting of the RWG during the third round is the Federal form of government and the need for certain constitutional guarantees and safeguards demanded by the people.

Bello said the joint statement adopted by both panels reflects their unwavering commitment to the peace process with an agreement to hold the fourth round-of-talks on April 2 to 6 back in Oslo, Norway.

Bello said the third round saw both panels drawn to their task of bringing the negotiations to logical conclusion of lowering, if not ending, violence and of finding a closure to the armed conflict.

During the past five days of the talks, Bello said the panels were not deterred from exploring new ways and other platforms to advance the talks.

"Our search for common ground on contentious issues such as the release of prisoners and bilateral ceasefire, were spirited by the counsel of our third party facilitator," Bello said, quoting a line from the speech of Norwegian Special envoy for the GRP-NDFP peace talks Elisabeth Slattum that the peace process is not a zero sum game where there is one winner and one loser, rather, one where both parties come out with the winning side.

Bello credited members of both panels for their diligence and patience in holding the talks as these added building blocks on moving the talks forward.

Presidential Peace Adviser Secretary Jesus Dureza said the third round was the most long session between the two panels.

"The road to peace is not always smooth," he said. He however, emphasized on the importance of keeping "the course together" to continue the peace roadmap going. (PNA)

Source: Philippines News Agency