PH hopes for peace deal in a year as NDF talks resume

HIGH HOPES. Members of the government and rebel panels before the formal talks in Oslo, Norway, on August 22, 2016. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

HIGH HOPES. Members of the government and rebel panels before the formal talks in Oslo, Norway, on August 22, 2016.

Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

OSLO, Norway – The Philippine government and communist rebels resumed formal peace negotiations on Monday, August 22, with the government setting an ambitious goal to complete the process within a year. 

"I'm very confident that this time we can push the talks forward and hopefully, upon mutual agreement of both parties, to talk on an accelerated pace. Maybe the timeline of the President will be achieved... one year," Silvestre Bello III, chief of the government panel, told Rappler on the sidelines of the talks. 

"We will do away with the usual sequencing. We will consider a simultaneous discussion of the three remaining substantive issues of socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces. With this new approach, we are quite confident that we might be able to achieve our timeline," he added.

The communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) hesitates to commit to the timeline, however. 

"President Duterte himself says he'll be satisfied if before the end of the term the peace agreement is rounded up and successfully finished. He expressed also possible difficulties along the way," Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison told Rappler when sought for comment. 

The formal negotations, aimed at ending Asia's most stubborn insurgency, resumed after an impasse of 5 years.

Established in December 1968, the CPP launched a rebellion 3 months later that has so far claimed the lives of 30,000 people, according to official estimates. 

The New People's Army (NPA), its armed faction, now counts just 4,000 members, down from 26,000 in the 1980s, though it enjoys the support of the poorest people in rural areas (READ: Fast facts: The CPP-NPA-NDF and the Oslo talks)

The talks came after President Duterte set the stage for the release of at least 20 top guerrillas who joined the NDF panel here, led by alleged CPP chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma. 

It was a sentimental journey for the rebel leaders, who never got to see Sison for 3 decades, ever since he left the Philippines in 1986 after the EDSA revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship. (READ: Joma Sison, Tiamzons reunited after 30 years

Both sides declared a limited ceasefire prior to the talks. They hope to agree on extending it. – Rappler.com