MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – An exploratory team led by former Agrarian Secretary Hernani Braganza, working with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), submitted to Malacañang last week a report aimed at resuming on the last year of the Aquino administration the long-stalled peace talks, two Rappler sources said.
The report was submitted Wednesday, April 8. Malacañang’s security cluster scheduled a meeting to discuss it but was postponed, one of the sources said.
The first official statement on the proposal came from Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr on Saturday, April 18.
“General Gregorio Catapang Jr, the Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines welcomes the proposal of the CPP-NPA-NDF (CNN) to resume peace talks with the government,” said Armed Forces public affairs officer Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc. The statement did not provide details.
Joma: Exploratory talks started 2014
The NDFP is the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which is behind the longest-running communist insurgency in Asia. Its numbers have dwindled, based on military statistics, from a peak of 25,000 armed regulars in the 80s to its current number of about 3,000. But it remains strong in several poor communities, especially in northern Mindanao.
The CPP claims it has 10,000 armed regulars, however.
NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison confirmed to Rappler they’ve been talking to Bragaza’s team since last 2014.
“The NDFP has made a proposal for a long-term ceasefire and time-bound negotiations of 6 months for each of the following of the substantive items: 1. social and economic reforms, 2. political and constitutional reforms and 3. end of conflict and disposition of forces,” Sison told Rappler in an e-mail on Friday, April 17.
The 6-month duration was proposed in February, Sison said.
Government officials, in off the record conversations, admitted there is not enough time to complete a peace agreement with the Philippine Left. But there is a lot of interest in reducing the violent encounters between government troops and CPP’s armed group, New People’s Army (NPA), especially in the coming elections.
The arrest of tagged CPP leaders Benito Tiamzon and wife Wilma in February 2014 was considered a game-changer by some in government. It brought hopes that the CPP would be more willing to discuss issues that led to the collapse of talks in February 2013.
The exploratory team went to work a few months later.
Braganza’s involvement was revealed in December 2014 when the Armed Forces issued a statement on his visit to a rebel camp in Mindanao during the CPP’s 46th anniversary. He secured the release of cops who were taken as captives by NPA-Mindanao.
It was a high point in the peace talks since their collapse. The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) recommended the appointment of retired Armed Forces chief General Emmanuel Bautista as the chief negotiator.
OPAPP Secretary Teresita Deles said back then that the government is open to the release of the Tiamzons.
Bautista was also supposed to meet his counterparts in February 2015. But it did not happen.
CPP statements after Mamasapano
The political climate changed between December 2014 and this report of the exploratory team, however. A lot of confidence-building will be required to resume the talks.
The death of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao has derailed developments. (READ: Talks with Reds casualty of Mamasapano, too)
The OPAPP was trapped in a series of congressional hearings and put on the defensive as several lawmakers blamed the peace process for the death of the elite cops. It turned into the worst crisis of the Aquino administration.
CPP statements against the Aquino administration in the aftermath of the Mamasapano tragedy were not appreciated by the OPAPP. They decided to put on hold the appointment of Bautista, Rappler learned.
The issues remain contentious and the NDFP officials have not hidden their opposition to Deles.
“Through Deles of OPAPP and Padilla the chairman of the decomposed GPH negotiating panel, Aquino has declared that The Hague Joint Declaration is ‘a document of perpetual division,’ the JASIG is an ‘inoperative piece of paper’ and the CARHRIHL as a ‘propaganda document of the NDFP. The quotes are from Deles and Padilla,” said Sison.
Padilla, for his part, while recognizing the sincerity of the NDFP, remains doubtful about the interests of the CPP.
The success of the new move could hinge on how much the government wants an indefinite ceasefire, and how much the Left wants the release of its political consultants. – Rappler.com