MANILA, Philippines — Based in The Netherlands, National Democratic Front (NDF) panel member and spokesperson Fidel Agcaoili is in Manila for a mission. He has to get the President’s “real sentiments” on the stalled peace talks.
He’s counting on his fraternity brothers in Sigma Rho — perhaps incoming Senate President Franklin Drilon — to relay the message.
“I am here to try to get a sense of the real sentiment of President Benigno Aquino III. We have been hearing a lot from the OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process), from [resigned government panel chief] Alex Padilla, and from presidential spokespersons, but nothing from the President,” Agcaoili told Rappler on the sidelines of a human rights conference over the weekend.
The message, he said, is something that “should be relayed personally by others. It cannot be said publicly.”
“I have been trying to meet with people who are close to the President. In my college years, I joined the Sigma Rho fraternity. There are many people in government who are Sigma Rhoans. Senate President Franklin Drilon is a Sigma Rhoan. Perhaps he might be able to bring our message. The President could say something with respect to his real sentiment,” Agcaoili said.
The peace talks that seeks to end Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency collapsed in February when the two panels couldn’t agree on the “special track,” which was meant to speed up the process that has been on and off since the presidency of Corazon Aquino.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) still considers the New People Army, the armed wing of the CPP/NDF, the country’s biggest internal security threat even if it says the armed group has dwindled to “more than 4,000.”
READ: Finish insurgency, AFP chief tells commanders
The government’s peace negotiators and the NDF say they want to go back to the negotiating table. But there’s mistrust on both sides and they have been locked in a word war.
“We’ll go back to the table when we know it will get us some place. If we are able to have some signs that we can go back to the table where there is clear agenda, a timeframe, and that going to the table will mean better conditions on the ground –meaning to say reduction of violence,” Deles said in a recent media briefing.
The government negotiators said the NDF abandoned the special track. Agcaoili said it was the government that walked out of the talks in February. They have two different versions of the special track, although both claim the initial agreements were clear.
In a #TalkThursday interview, Padilla explained the special track would have immediately put in place a ceasefire and a special panel would have been created to tackle issues that bring about rebellion.
But Padilla said the NDF returned to the “regular track” when it demanded, among others, the termination of the government’s flagship program against poverty, the Conditional Cash Transfer program; the end of the military’s Oplan Bayanihan counter-insurgency campaign plan; the distribution of land to 5 million landless farmers; and the release of detained NDF consultants.
READ: Joma wants peace, the ‘ground’ doesn’t — Padilla
Agcaoili explained: “The special track and the regular track are complementary. The special track is a way of facilitating the regular track.”
He said what they offered under the special track is a truce, not a ceasefire. “They [government negotiators] don’t want truce. They do not want the NDF and the government to be allies. They want the NDF to surrender,” he said.
President is misled?
Agcaoili fears that the President may have been misled, and that is why he is in the Philippines.
“I’m here to be able to talk to people who are close to the President, to present our side — not according to the interpretation of OPAPP or the military,” Agcaoili said.
While the government questioned the sincerity of the NDF, Agcaoili also earlier tagged Deles as the one sabotaging the talks.
Agcaoili also noted that Deles — unlike her predecessors — has not opened communications lines with the NDF. “Deles has never even called the NDF once or written formally once,” he said.
“Perhaps they think they have the moral high ground. Well, they should perhaps look at their background,” he said.
Deles, on the other hand, said the level of violence from the NPA cannot be tolerated. The NPA is behind a series of spectacular attacks this year, the latest of which killed cops jogging in Baguio City.
“A peace process where you have talks and procedural agreements but the violence is high – people don’t support this. There is a disconnect,” Deles said. She compared it to the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has not clashed with goverment forces since the signing of a framework deal last year. — Rappler.com
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