Leftist Cabinet members to convince Duterte to revive peace talks

MANILA, Philippines – Lefist Cabinet members are determined to convince President Rodrigo Duterte to revive peace talks with communist rebels when they meet with him on February 20.

Liza Maza, National Anti-Poverty Commission lead convenor, made the statement in response to questions at a Palace news briefing on Thursday, February 16,

"I hope he will revive the peace talks. It is important because we are already at a very important stage of the negotiations. This is of the more substantive stage, the CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms). That's why it's hard to just abandon it," Maza said.

Aside from Maza, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano will also attend the meeting, along with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the chief government negotiator in peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF); and Chief Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza.

Asked how they will persuade Duterte to revive peace talks amid his trust issues with the New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Maza said they will remind him of a proposed mechanism to verify violations by either side, apparently referring to the proposed bilateral ceasefire deal.

"I would say, if there are any future violations committed by one side, then there is a mechanism," she said.

Alleged NPA attacks against the military before the former had officially lifted its ceasefire with the government – especially one involving the death of 3 soldiers in Bukidnon – had prompted Duterte to halt talks with the communist rebels.

Maza also plans to stress to Duterte the "sincerity" of both the NDF and government panels to continue the negotiations.

"Both panels really want to talk about [the] substantive part of the talks, socioeconomic reforms. I didn't see anyone not sincere in CPP-NDF as well as in the GRP (government of the Republic of the Philippines). Both are sincere," she said.

On Duterte's order to rearrest CPP leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon following the government's termination of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), Maza said: "That would be unfortunate. Let's not burn all our bridges."

The Tiamzons were temporarily released from detention in August 2016 to participate as NDF consultants in the peace negotiations. With the termination of the JASIG, the Office of the Solicitor General asked the Quezon City Regional Trial Court on Wednesday, February 15, to order the rearrest of the couple.

Maza also described as "provocative" accusations of the military that it was NPA rebels who attacked a convoy carrying aid to Surigao earthquake victims.

"Without proof, you are saying the NPA did it. It's a provocative statement," she said.

The February 20 meeting, an initiative of the President, will be held ahead of the supposed February 22-25 side meeting of the two panels in Utrecht, The Netherlands, to discuss a possible joint ceasefire deal.

Value in staying on

Despite the halted peace talks, the Leftist Cabinet members still see value in serving the Duterte administration.

"'Yung reason kung bakit namin tinanggap 'yung position bilang mga miyembro ng Gabinete ay nandoon pa naman (The reasons why we accepted the position as Cabinet members are still there)," said Maza.

She said they have 3 reasons for staying on: the chance to implement their long-envisioned reforms, the hope that peace talks may be revived, and the President's commitment to an independent foreign policy and upholding the country's sovereignty.

"One is the space to do reforms; the peace talks, we haven't given up on that yet; and the President's statements on independent foreign policy, programs to strengthen Philippine sovereignty – they're still there," said Maza.

The officials also would not want to pass up the chance to bring a different voice to the Cabinet where, Maza admits, there is a "struggle" among pro-military, neo-liberals, and leftists.

"One element we can contribute to the Cabinet is giving voice to the concerns and perspectives of civilians, not the pro-military inside the Cabinet. It's a struggle within and we will engage in that," she said.

"We won't give up our role inside the Cabinet where there are strong voices of the militarists, neo-liberals, and the old guard," Maza added.

Duterte himself has expressed his confidence in the 3 Left-leaning officials.

"The President says he has high confidence in the 3 of us because we are performing well," said Maza. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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