Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: July 28, 2010

MANILA, Philippines—The Armed Forces of the Philippines as well as two major rebel groups in the country all said yesterday they welcomed President Aquino’s plan to seek a peaceful settlement to the armed conflicts that have hobbled development for over 40 years.

But ending the guerrilla war led by the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and the separatist rebellion in Mindanao spearheaded by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are far from certain.Former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo noted that Mr. Aquino had set a ceasefire as a precondition for peace talks that “practically closed the door” to the immediate resumption of talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army.

“President Aquino should have known that (asking the CPP-NPA to first agree to a long term ceasefire, a position also taken by his late mother, former president Corazon Aquino), is a stumbling block to the resumption of peace negotiations,” said Ocampo, a former rebel and peace negotiator, in an interview in Bacolod City yesterday.

Closing possibilities

The CPP-NPA had already rejected this approach as early as 1987, he said. “Putting it forward as another precondition is practically closing the possibility to peace negotiations resuming immediately,” Ocampo added.

President Aquino, in his first State of the Nation Address, called on the communist rebels to agree to an “immediate ceasefire” and to “put forth concrete solutions rather than just criticism and finger-pointing.”

CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, in his own statement e-mailed to media agencies yesterday said the guerrillas were open to talks. But he added: “It is unjust for anyone to expect the revolutionary forces and the people to simply cease fire and surrender to a rotten ruling system that shuns patriotic and progressive demands and refuses to engage in basic reforms.”

A separate CPP statement listed several concrete proposals and agreements already discussed by previous negotiators: The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 which sets the principles, framework and sequence of agenda of the talks; the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) signed in 1995: and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) signed in 1998.

The homeland issue

At the same time, Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator of the MILF, also said the biggest Muslim rebel group was eager to resume talks with government but added that it looked forward to an agreement that grants them an expanded ancestral homeland in the south.

The Philippine Supreme Court in 2008 declared “unconstitutional” a draft agreement granting the MILF an expanded bangsamoro homeland.

“The government is fully aware of our position to expand the Muslim homeland and get a much larger share in revenues from strategic resources, such as oil, gas and minerals. There are no changes in our position,” Iqbal told Reuters by phone.

He added that the rebel group would also not agree to replace Malaysia as the third party facilitator, or scrap past agreements and start fresh negotiations.

Peace talks with both the MILF and NDF have been stop-start and acceptable deals remain elusive. Marlon Ramos, Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas; Delfin Mallari Jr, Inquirer Southern Luzon; and Reuters