Cautious optimism in Philippines negotiations

Foreign Minister Brende (ER), Jesus Dureza, Silvestre H. Bello, Hernani BraganzaOSLO. Foreign Minister Brende (R), Jesus Dureza, Silvestre H. Bello, Hernani Braganza.Photo : Berit Roald / NTB scanpix

In nearly 50 years they have fought, and for 30 of them they have tried to make peace. Now the authorities in the Philippines and the rebel movement NDFP may have a peace agreement within reach.

– We envisage an agreement within nine to twelve months, said the government’s chief negotiator, Minister Silvestre Bello, when talks opened in Oslo on Monday.
– The Filipino people are looking forward to this, retorted NDFP leader Jose Maria Sison.

Jovial mood

A jovial mood with lots of laughs and shared images with upraised fists marked the opening of the formal peace talks at Holmenkollen Park Hotel. But the list of reform demands from the NDFP is extensive, and the differences between the parties are large.
– It is going to be five very demanding days, said Foreign Minister Brende (H) firmly when he opened negotiations.

Norway has since 2001 acted as facilitator of the peace talks, but Brende warns against having too large expectations.

– It is big and complicated issues to be negotiated, he said.
The conflict in the Philippines started in 1968 when the Communist party CPP started a rebellion against the government. Various peace processes under six different presidents in the last 30 years have not led to a permanent solution to the conflict, which has cost between 30,000 and 150,000 lives.
– People are sick and tired
On the agenda in Oslo stands ceasefire, distribution of armed forces, release of prisoners and a timeline for further negotiations. Besides requiring NDFP numerous political, economic and constitutional reforms.

– Greed and corruption have been taking over. People are sick and tired of a rotten political system, said Sison, who founded the CPP in 1968 and started the party’s armed struggle following year.

Among the most important reforms rebels will have implemented are land reform and nationalization of industry.

– A land reform will have a major impact on 75 million people, said Julie de Lima from NDFP.

Wind in the sails

Both parties maintain that it is particularly the election of President Rodrigo Duterte that has given the peace process a fair wind.

– Duterte has taken bold steps, says the government’s peace adviser Jesus Dureza, who is one of the key players around the negotiating table. He is convinced that this time they will manage to get an agreement.

Duterte has demonstrated a strong personal commitment to the peace process and has recently released 19 communists as a sign of desire for peace, among the guerrillas two top leaders, Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma.

He also allowed the communists to appoint four new members of the new government.
– The situation is looking brighter than ever, says Brende to news agency NTB.


He also took the opportunity to discuss the fate of Kjartan Sekkingstad, who was abducted by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas last year, with the Philippine authorities.
– We have an ongoing dialogue on the issue.

We are very keen to find a solution for Sekkingstad and it was natural to take this up now when Dureza is in the country. But it is a very challenging case, says Brende, who denies that it is appropriate to pay ransom for the Norwegian.


Source: NTB scanpix / Norway Today