In a February 2010 meeting with US Embassy officials, a Norwegian envoy told American officials that the communist leadership in the Philippines no longer abides by Joma Sison’s commitment to formal talks
Wikileaks:The Philippine Cables
7 September 2011: 3:27 am
MANILA – Since 2001, the Norwegians have been facilitating the peace negotiations between the government of the Philippines (GPH) and the communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), mediating the talks that were conducted mostly in Norway’s capital Oslo.So if the Norwegians are supposedly neutral third party facilitators in the peace process, what was a top Norwegian official in the Philippines doing talking to US officials about the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations, providing the Americans intelligence information that could potentially be detrimental to the Filipino communists?
On February 3, 2010, Vegar Brynildsen, Norway’s special envoy to the Philippines on the peace process, met with US officials where they discussed Oslo’s efforts to facilitate the talks. Brynildsen disclosed to the Americans that Jose Maria Sison, chief political consultant of the NDFP in the negotiations and the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), “held a four-eyes meeting with Presidential Peace Advisor Annabelle Abaya somewhere in the Netherlands at the end of November (2009).”
Vegar Brynildsen (left) met with special representatives from the NDFP and the Philippines government, Luis Jalandoni and Nieves Confesor, in Norway in May 2008, along with Norwegian envoy Hans Brattskar. Two years later, Brynildsen met with US Embassy officials in Manila where they discussed the peace process. (Photo from Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
In that meeting, according to a cable from the US Embassy in Manila dated February 4, 2010, Sison and Abaya agreed to hold formal talks in Oslo in December. “It soon became clear to Brynildsen, however, that the NDFP leadership in the Philippines refused to abide by Sison’s commitment to formal talks,” reads the cable, which was among the thousands released in recent days by the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks.
The author of the cable, US Embassy charge d’affaires Leslie Bassett, put a “strictly protect” note to the document, underscoring that Brynildsen had cautioned the Americans that discussion of the Sison-Abaya meeting “could call into question the discretion of the Norwegian facilitators.” In other words, Brynildsen was not supposed to share the information with anybody. That he did and to the US at that might not sit well with the communists, who have been waging a Maoist rebellion since the ‘60s, with an avowed goal to dismantle what they deem as US control of the country’s politics and economy.
It is perhaps too early to say what the effects would be, if any, of the disclosure concerning Brynildsen on Norway’s participation in the peace process. While it is not unusual for embassies to share information about matters they have an interest in, the Brynildsen meeting with the Americans could pose an embarrassment to the Norwegians, who have prided themselves in their efforts to mediate in the talks – a mediation that, indeed, has produced tangible results, such as the establishment of the Joint Monitoring Committee in 2004 that monitored human-rights abuses by both sides. The communists have likewise publicly praised Oslo for its mediation.
Last week, a day after the cable and thousands of others were uploaded to the Wikileaks.org site, Oslo announced that it was kick-starting the negotiations between the government and the communists after these stalled due to disagreements concerning the NDFP’s “consultants” still in jail.
Ture Lundh, a special envoy by Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is scheduled to arrive in the Philippines today, Sept. 5, “to try to break the deadlock,” according to a report by Agence France-Presse.
According to the cable, which was classified as secret, “this development showed the Norwegians that Sison, who has been self-exiled in the Netherlands since 1987, is no longer ‘calling the shots’ for the communist side, but, rather, needs further approval from Philippine-based figures.”
Brynildsen, it added, “said he found it a ‘real challenge’ to work as facilitator not knowing the inner workings of the NDFP and who held ultimate policymaking authority on the communist side. Normally, the Norwegian government insists on meeting with the top leaders of both sides before agreeing to act as an international facilitator. Tangentially, Brynildsen remarked that he was not positively impressed with the quality of Philippine government intelligence on the NDFP.”
Brynildsen discussed with the Americans the human rights situation in the Philippines, as well as the 2010 presidential elections. “Brynildsen opined that the election of presidential candidate Manuel Villar might prove conducive to peace talks with the NDFP,” the cable notes. Villar, a senator, allied with the left during the 2010 elections but failed in his bid. “Villar appeared willing to negotiate with leftists, and the NDFP had taken positive note of some of his public statements about human rights and income distribution,” it says.
The cable also notes that Brynildsen “also remarked that Sison ‘loves’ Villar’s running mate, Senator Loren Legarda, although Brynildsen did not know precisely why Legarda appealed to Sison.” Legarda has often been tapped by the communists as a facilitator or intermediary during releases of prisoners of war, most notably the release of General Victor Obillo in 1999 in Davao City.
In the cable’s “comment” section, Bassett writes that “the Philippine government and armed forces generally consider the communist threat to be more serious than that posed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Yet the Arroyo administration appears to have shown greater interest in making progress toward an agreement with the MILF than in pursuing talks with the NDFP. It is unclear to us whether this focus is because the MILF’s agenda appears less threatening to the core interests of the Manila-based elite; because the MILF’s leadership is more coherent and decisive than the communists’; or because there is greater international interest in seeing a resolution to the conflict with the Moros.”
In a separate cable, the MILF strongly urged for greater participation by the US in the rebel group’s peace negotiations with the government.