Norway bringing next hope for peace to Philippines

Peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the underground political umbrella of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), will resume by the end of July in Oslo, Norway, reported the Manila Bulletin citing House Speaker Jose De Venecia’s statement made on July 2.      This followed President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s welcome early June to the Norwegian government’s offer to serve as a third-party country to facilitate and mediate for the immediate resumption of the long-stalled peace process.      The president made the gesture during the courtesy call of Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs State Secretary (Deputy Minister) Vidar Helgesen in Malacanang, where she noted that Norway has become a “global peacemaker” for facilitating the peace process between Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers.      “We look at (the peace process between Sri Lanka and Tamil Tigers) with envy,” she said, expressing exasperation over the snail-paced progress of the peace process with the NDF which has been indefinitely suspended by the government.      Helgesen said the Norwegian government has been following up the Philippine government-NDF peace talks and is willing to share its inputs so that the armed conflict with the communist insurgent group would finally end.      “We will do our best and see what can be done. We need to work with both parties if this is to move forward. It will not be easy but we will work closely with the Filipino people,” he said.      The Norwegian envoy then left Manila and conferred with Dutch authorities in The Hague, where leaders of the insurgent group have been living in self-exile as political refugees, about holding a separate meeting with the CCP and NDF panel.      Secretary Silvestre Bello III, chief government peace negotiator with NDF, together with Jose de Venecia, Tarlac Province Governor Jose Yap Sr., who is a senior consultant of the government panel, and presidential adiviser Noreberto Gonzales left the Philippines for Amsterdam on June 25 to meet with NDF peace panel chair, Luis Jalandoni, CPP founding chair Jose Ma. Sison and other rebel negotiators.      “The result of the talks is that both parties mutually agreed to resume the talks, possibly by the end of this month,” Bello said during a press briefing at Malacanang about the three-day backchanneling talks.      Peace negotiations between the government and the NDF were put to a halt some 18 months ago after the two sides failed to agree on a number of issues, including the Europe-based rebel leaders’ refusal to call off the political assassinations and tactical offensives being carried out by the CPP’s military arm, New People’s Army (NPA).      Aside from the assassinations carried out by NPA in 2001, which claimed the lives of Representatives Rodolfo Aguinaldo of Cagayan and Marcial Punzalan of Quezon, another major stumbling block to the peace process was the “terrorist” tag accorded late last year by the US government and the 15-nation European Union (EU) on the NDF along with the NPA and the CPP.      The NDF, for its part, has earlier claimed that it is willing to talk peace again with the government if the Arroyo administration can have the insurgent group removed from the US and EU international watch list of foreign terrorist organizations.      De Venecia, who launched this latest peace initiative, revealed that the two panels agreed to hold the talks in Oslo and accept Norway’s role both as a host and an “active facilitator to put an end to nearly four decades of violence.”      “We are pleased with the role of Norway, and we are aware of its initial success in arbitrating the talks between the central government of Sri Lanka and the insurgent Tamil Tigers,” said De Venecia after attending four informal meetings in Amsterdam with the NDF panel.      De Venecia assured Sison that the “terrorist tag” given on the NPA by the United States and the European Union would be removed “on the eve of a final peace settlement.” Read related update “Philippines’ peace talks with NDF to resume in August instead”.