Roxas ally joins panel in informal talks with communists

DAVAO, Philippines – Officials of the National Democratic Front (NDF) and a team representing the incoming administration are set to meet in Oslo, Norway, next week on the sidelines of a peace forum.

NDF spokesman Fidel Agcaoili said on Wednesday, June 8, that several members of the NDF and a “team” representing president-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s administration would be meeting for “preliminary talks” ahead of the resumption of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the movement behind Asia’s longest-running insurgency. 

Agcaoili flew into Davao City on Tuesday, June 7, to meet with incoming President-elect Rodrigo Duterte for the 3rd time and to attend a forum hosted by the Ateneo de Davao University.  

Among those representing the Duterte administration in the Oslo talks is Hernani Braganza, a political ally and former adviser of defeated presidential candidate Manuel Roxas II. Braganza was also an emissary to the NDF in the Aquino administration’s last-ditch effort to hold talks with the group in 2014. A former legislator and agrarian reform secretary, he has ties with the Left because he was a former student activist under the National Union of Students of the Philippines. (READ: Nani Braganza, top rebel leaders hold talks)

The other officials representing the Duterte administration are incoming presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza and incoming Labor Secretary Silvestre "Bebot" Bello III. Those from the NDF’s ranks include Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder and NDF chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison, Agcaoili, Luis Jalandoni, Connie Ledesma, Sison’s wife Julie de Lima-Sison, and two lawyers. 

“They have agreed to talk about resuming the peace negotiations in accordance with previously signed agreements," according to Agcaoili. The other talking points during the informal meet, Agcaoili said, are:

"I think those are the core items that have been agreed upon," Agcaoili said during a press conference in the city. 

Dureza told reporters he will be going to Paris first on June 11 to meet with Duterte supporters. He will then head to Oslo by June 13, where he will be joined by Bello and Braganza. 

Agcaoili has met with Duterte 3 times, the most recent one lasting until the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday. The NDF spokesman said they spoke about a possible visit of Duterte to Sison, the release of political prisoners, and the Left’s recommendations for the Cabinet posts Duterte offered to them. 

Nothing official yet 

Dureza was also quick to clarify that the meet in Oslo was nothing formal, since they are just incoming officials of the next government. 

Both the team representing Duterte and the NDF are part of an invitation-only forum in Oslo described as a “unique opportunity for senior conflict mediators, high-level decision makers and other major actors in peace processes to share their experiences, identify challenges and reflect on their own and others’ practice in a discreet setting and informal atmosphere.”

“I was even told they [the NDF] were not originally part [of the forum] ibig sabihin (so it means) specifically they are being requested to appear so that they can engage [with us],” said Dureza, who is no stranger to peace negotiations. 

Dureza, under the Ramos administration, was part of the first exploratory talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Talks ended when former president Joseph Estrada declared an all-out war against the MILF. Negotiations resumed under the Arroyo administration, during which Dureza was chief peace negotiator.  

“The difference now is that we have a new president who thinks out of the box, who is very bold and who will spend a lot of political capital just to see that we will achieve things in these negotiations. So ako, I'm very optimistic,” Dureza told reporters. 

Pressed on whether he had a “deadline” for peace, Dureza quipped: “ASAP (as soon as possible).”

But turning serious, he added: “Kung alam ko yung magic formula, matagal ko na sanang naayos ito (If I knew the magic formula, I would’ve fixed this a long time ago.) 

Dureza said many of his friends had joked that peace talks would run smoother now that he’s part of it again. “No, it’s… step by step, one piece at a time. But having a very active president like president-elect [Duterte]… [he] has been very forthright. Unprecedented yung nag offer siya sa CPP NPA yung (it’s unprecedented that he offered the CPP NPA) Cabinet positions,” he said, referring to the Cabinet posts Duterte wanted left-leaning activists to fill. – Rappler.com