Philippines: government and rebels resume peace talks

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FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. gestures as he delivers his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), at the House of Representative in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 24, 2023. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David/File photo

In a development aimed at putting an end to decades of conflict, the Philippine government and the country’s communist rebels have agreed to restart peace negotiations after a six year break. The announcement, made jointly by both parties and facilitated by Norway is seen as a step towards resolving the standing and violent conflict between authorities and the New Peoples Army (NPA), the military branch of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which has claimed over 40,000 lives in its 50 year existence.

Recently, delegations from both sides reached an agreement on a shared vision for peace addressing challenges as revealed by Norway’s foreign ministry on Tuesday.

If successful, these negotiations could result in an end to the rebels’ armed struggle transforming them into a movement. Norway has been facilitating the peace process for around two decades in this island nation.

“The parties have committed to seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict” stated their joint release. They emphasized that these peace talks will delve into addressing rooted political grievances. Government Peace Process Adviser, Carlito Galvez announced that the discussions involved considering the removal of the communist party and its affiliated groups, from the governments list of designated terror organisations.

Although an immediate ceasefire was not declared, General Romeo Brawner, the chief, confirmed that operations against the rebels would continue. However, he also mentioned that if a peace deal is achieved it could lead to a shift in focus for the forces towards territorial defense. This would mean redirecting resources and efforts from conflicts.

The last formal talks occurred in 2017 and were abruptly terminated by President Rodrigo Duterte. Despite his attempts to revive negotiations before leaving office in mid 2022, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took over as his successor.

Norwegian facilitators played a key role in maintaining communication with both parties involved. This eventually led to discussions and a secret signing ceremony on November 23 at Oslo City Hall. The event was attended by rebel leaders well as several Philippine government ministers.

Before announcing the peace agreement, Marcos Jr. issued an amnesty order for rebel groups, including former members of the communist movement. This order absolved them of any crimes committed in pursuit of beliefs.

The talks had resumed prior to the death of self-exiled Communist Party founder Jose Maria Sison. The peace negotiations will be conducted by the arm of the rebels, known as the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). These talks have been taking place sporadically between the government and NDFP since 1986.

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