Underscoring the urgency and the seriousness of President Rodrigo Duterte to forge a lasting peace agreement with communist rebels, the Philippine government came in full force to the third round of talks in Rome, Italy where the more substantial agenda items will be taken up.
Led by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus G. Dureza, the high level delegation includes Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr., National Anti-Poverty Commission Chair Liza Masa, and nine members of the House of Representatives led by Tawi-Tawi Representative Ruby Sahali, Chair of the House Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity. The legislators are here as observers.
Dureza and government chief peace negotiator Silvestre H. Bello III both said that the president has instructed them to fast track the negotiations in order to have enough time to implement a peace deal under the Duterte administration.
This round of talks in Rome is crucial as negotiators from both sides begin to tackle the “heart and soul” of the peace negotiations which will focus on socio-economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms.
Both panels have already exchanged draft proposals which special envoy Elisabeth Slattum described as the most comprehensive so far describing it as “ambitious.”
Slattum noted that both parties want a better future for the Philippines and the Filipino people. “And our hope as third party facilitator is that the third round of talks can bring us one step closer to that common goal,” she stressed.
Slattum is the representative of the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) which is hosting the peace negotiations between the Philippine government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) which counts the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).
Bello said the two previous rounds of talks both held in Oslo, Norway provided the “needed momentum to discuss the remaining substantive agenda of the negotiations.”
The government panel is confident it can strike a deal with the communist rebels within a year to end armed hostilities in the countryside.
Dureza and Bello also reiterated the government’s position that both parties sign a more stable and formal ceasefire agreement with the NDF.
“I am one with President Duterte’s optimism that in this round of talks, we are able to finalize and approve that joint ceasefire agreement,” Bello said.
He added that the government panel is prepared with a draft agreement on bilateral ceasefire on top of the draft agreements on socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces.
The government panel said the presence of a large contingent from the House of Representatives will help ensure close coordination between the executive and legislative branches of government in accelerating the peace process.
Dureza earlier said the issues and demands of rebel forces in the Philippines could require amendments in the Constitution and even a change of government.
The House delegation also includes House Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra Sema, representatives Reynaldo Umali (justice commitee), Rene Relampagos (agrarian reform) and members of the House special committee on Peace and Reconciliation and Unity led members Carlos Isagani Zarate, Jesus Sacdalan, Jose Christopher Belmonte, Maximo Rodriguez, Nancy Catamco, Gary Alejano and Leopoldo Bataoil.