Philippine peace talks open in Norway

Ceasefire declared, hopes are high that negotions will succeed in ending Asia's longest-running insurgency
Philippine peace talks open in Norway

Government negotiators express optimism on the prospect of peace during the resumption of peace talks in Oslo, Norway, on Aug. 22. (Photo by Edwin Espejo) 

Formal negotiations aimed at ending almost half a century of Maoist rebellion in the Philippines, Asia's longest running insurgency, opened in Norway on Aug. 22.

Peace negotiations between the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front were suspended in 2012 due to disagreements topped by the arrests and detention of rebel leaders.

"We are all here, in a foreign land, to reignite the lost sparks that were there before as both parties search for political settlement and peace," said Jesus Dureza of the government peace panel.

"There is no giving up on peace work and peacemaking knows no limits," Silvestre Bello, the head of the government peace panel added.

"We can never have a peace agreement if we do not talk. It will take more than one party to make a peace agreement," he said.

The resumption of talks came after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the release of top rebel leaders in prison.

Among those released last week were Communist Party chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife, Wilma, who allegedly served as the party's secretary-general.

The agenda for this week's meeting include the affirmation of previously signed agreements, discussion of issues concerning socio-economic reforms, political and economic reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

Also to be discussed is the reconstitution of an agreement on safety and immunity guarantees for the rebels and an amnesty proclamation for the release of all political prisoners.


Church leaders, rights groups hopeful

Church leaders in the Philippines expressed hope that the "spirit of the peace negotiations" will "trickle down to conflict areas" and stop the shooting war, especially in the southern region of Mindanao.

"It is contradictory to keep talking about peace and yet there is an ongoing conflict," said Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, convenor of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform.

Human rights group Karapatan welcomed the peace talks as "an important occasion in the struggle for just and lasting peace in the Philippines."

"The resumption of the formal peace talks should pave the way for meaningful discussions between the two parties," said Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of Karapatan.

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Palabay called on the government to withdraw "trumped up" charges against political prisoners and facilitate the release of more than 500 suspected rebels in detention.

"This policy and practice of filing trumped up criminal charges against social workers, religious, human rights advocates, leaders of people's organizations and consultants to the peace process has to stop," she said.

International Alert, a global peace organization, said the public needs to "closely monitor the talks and to rally for their successful conclusion."

"Each one of us has to be involved as this concerns not only the parties to the conflict but the whole nation and its succeeding generations," said Judy Gulane, spokeswoman of the organization.



Government forces began observing a unilateral ceasefire with the rebels on Aug. 21, the day before the talks in Norway.

"All combat operations have been cancelled, suspended. All combat operations have already stopped," said army spokesman Colonel Benjamin Hao.

The truce restored the July 25 ceasefire declared by Duterte during his State of the Nation Address. 

The president ended that truce six days later, after a rebel ambush left a militiaman dead and four others wounded in Davao del Norte province.

The rebels also declared a unilateral truce on Aug. 21 to "celebrate and bolster" the resumption of the talks.

The Communist Party of the Philippines said it welcomes the government’s decision to reciprocate the ceasefire.

Peace negotiations between the government and the rebels began in 1986 during the administration of former president Corazon Aquino. It was followed by nearly three decades of talks that ended in failure.

 Additional reporting by Jigger Jerusalem in Mindanao

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