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Sweet taste of Mindanao peace talks turns sour

MANILA (SE): Peace talks between the Philippine government and representatives from the National Democratic Front of the Communist Party of The Philippines that began on an upbeat note on August 22 this year, soured significantly during the second round, which got under way on October 8 in Oslo, Norway.

A statement released at the conclusion of the talks by the National Democratic Front on October 12, describes what the delegates called a growing uneasiness and impatience among its negotiators over government tardiness in releasing political prisoners.

Over 500 suspected members of the Communist insurrection continue to be held in Philippine prisons or detention centres. This became the big sticking point around the negotiating table in Oslo in the latest round of talks.

Philippine human rights watchdog, Karapatan, said that sticking to the terms of the promised amnesty for the release of all political prisoners is a must condition for the talks to have any chance of making any real progress.

She also pointed out that only 22 of the around 500 being held have so far released and given their freedom. Most of those are consultants to the peace process being brokered by the Norwegian government.

The president, Rodrigo Duterte, insists that settlement in the peace talks is a prerequisite to the release of the political prisoners.

However, Karapatan countered by saying that the situation is being aggravated by the continuing arrest of people described as suspected rebels and farmers accused of being sympathisers, mostly on what it calls trumped up charges of theft.

The secretary general of Karapatan, Cristina Palabay, said that over the past three months of the administration of the current president, her organisation has documented the arrests of at least 12 farmers, as well as peace advocates, in addition to one tribal school teacher.

October 7 saw 12 farmers taken in on the one day and charged with theft. All have been detained.

“We hope that the Duterte administration stops legal offensives, the arrest and detention based on trumped up criminal charges against activists and farmers fighting for genuine agrarian reform,” Palabay said.

The armed wing of the Communist Party of The Philippines maintains that it has stuck religiously with the conditions of its own unilateral ceasefire declaration.

However, a spokesperson for the New People’s Army, Jorge Madlos, accused the Philippine military of making it extremely difficult for it to stick to the ceasefire, claiming that Communist units are forced to continually conduct counter-manoeuvres to avoid being drawn into skirmishes with the trigger-happy government forces.

Despite the ebullient atmosphere of the first round of talks in Oslo, the National Democratic Front says the taste in the mouth has soured and a great chasm has opened up between the government and the Communist peace panel.

It adds that the age-old problems of rural landlessness and poverty due to the persistence of feudalism and the absence of real industrialisation that have failed to create viable jobs for people remain the sticking point.

The third round of talks is scheduled for January next year. The venue has yet to be announced, but it will be on neutral foreign soil.

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