Reds all set for back-channel talks; Joma’s not bullish

By: Delfin T. Mallari Jr. – @inquirerdotnet
Philippine Daily Inquirer / 07:22 AM July 07, 2017

LUCENA CITY—Communist rebels are all set to hold back-channel talks for the resumption of negotiations with the government even though their exiled founder, Jose Ma. “Joma” Sison, isn’t optimistic about the prospects of peace.

Sison confirmed on Thursday that Fidel Agcaoili, negotiating panel chair of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), would arrange back-channel talks with his counterpart, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

The goal, he said, was to hold the back-channel talks this month to prepare for the fifth round of negotiations in August.

Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and NDFP political consultant, however, said the resumption of talks would depend on the nature of the demands that each panel would put on the table.

“[The government] and NDFP can advance on the peace negotiations only if they make just and reasonable demands to each other and be ready to make agreements beneficial to the Filipino people,” Sison said in a statement to the Inquirer.

Bello said on Tuesday both panels had agreed to hold informal talks later this month to iron out issues, such as the need for a ceasefire agreement, and resume the fifth round of formal peace negotiations next month.

Agcaoili said government peace panel member Hernani Braganza proposed the inclusion of a discussion on ceasefire in the back-channel talks.

The fifth round of peace talks was suspended on May 27 after the government panel withdrew in protest of the CPP order to its armed wing, the New People’s Army, to step up attacks against government troops.

Sison, however, believed that the government has lost its interest in “substantive peace negotiations.”

He said the peace negotiations “are already on the way to being scuttled completely by the government.” The government panel did not respond to this.

Sison cited government actions that could lead to the collapse of the negotiations.

These are the government’s failure to fulfil President Duterte’s campaign promise to release all political prisoners; the government’s precondition that the NDFP must surrender before any agreement on reforms can be signed; the government’s all-out war policy against the CPP-NPA; and possible expansion of martial law coverage.

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