No to Tiamzons' release for fresh talks with NDF – Palace
MANILA, Philippines – For Malacañang, releasing top rebel leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon is not an option in resuming formal negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on Monday, December 29, reiterated the government's stand that it will not accept any preconditions when it comes to talks with the CPP.
Lacierda said the Tiamzons would have to face criminal cases that have been filed against them.
“Our emphasis is always – no preconditions when it comes to talks. We have said that before. We have always said that when we come to talks with either party – NDF (National Democratic Front) or MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front). There are no preconditions with the talks. This is something we have said time and time again,” Lacierda said in a media briefing Monday, December 29.
Ongoing informal talks between the CPP and the government have renewed hopes for formal negotiations between both parties to resume. (READ: Gov't, CPP consult in Surigao del Sur NPA base; Communist Party confirms talks with PH government)
The CPP wants the government to release top rebel leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon before it agrees to return to the negotiating table, the Netherlands-based CPP founding chairman Jose Ma Sison said in an interview.
The NDF, the CPP's political wing, is demanding the release of the Tiamzons because they are supposed to be covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).
The Tiamzons, alleged leaders of the CPP's armed wing, the New People's Army, were arrested in March.
But Alex Padilla, the government chief negotiator in talks with the NDF during that time, said the couple was not covered by JASIG since the verification process for the mechanism scheduled in July 2012 failed due to a corrupted file, preventing CPP members using aliases to be covered by immunity.
The government's refusal to release NDF consultants were among the reasons talks between both parties collapsed in 2013.
Other reasons include the government's refusal to terminate programs that the CPP opposed, including the Conditional Cash Transfer program and the military's Oplan Bayanihan counter-insurgency campaign, and the NDF's refusal to agree to a ceasefire.
The government declared a month-long unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels during the holiday season but the CPP-NPA-NDF only declared certain dates for the ceasefire.
Lacierda branded this as part of the CPP's strategy to keep its members.
"This is strategic for them because when the rebels go down and take a break, some of them don't want to go up anymore. So that's why their ceasefire only lasts for days," Lacierda said.
Chief Peace Adviser Teresita Deles earlier said both sides need to to agree to terms that are "doable and timebound" to prevent another collapse of the ongoing talks.
Observers would just have to wait for the official announcement on who would replace Padilla, now Philhealth president and CEO, as the government's chief negotiator. Lacierda refused to confirm if retired General Emmanuel Bautista is indeed being eyed for the post.
"I think those who wage war are those who have the most to learn and the most to invest in peace. But, you know, again, we don’t know yet...I have no information."
There is still no word as to whether President Benigno Aquino III would have a meeting with Sison, Lacierda said, when asked.
Negotiators broached the idea of a meeting between Aquino and Sison after the President's meeting with MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim in 2011 became instrumental in jumpstarting talks with Muslim rebels, which resulted in a peace agreement signed in March 2014.
The surprise meeting was held in secret in Japan and was not announced to the media.
The CPP is waging Asia's longest running insurgency. – Angela Casauay/Rappler.com