OSLO, Norway—The government said Monday it hopes to reach a peace deal with communist guerrillas within a year, as the two sides kicked off talks in Norway aimed at ending one of Asia’s longest insurgencies.
“On the part of the [government] panel, we have imposed a timeline of nine to 12 months,” said Silvestre Bello III, the head of the government delegation.
The government and the rebels hope to breathe new life into the peace process by discussing simultaneously—contrary to previous attempts—the outstanding issues of social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and an end to hostilities.
“With this new approach we are quite confident that we will be able to achieve our timetable,” Bello said.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Proces Jesus Dureza said he was optimistic that the talks would bear fruit due to the bold steps taken by President Rodrigo Duterte to jump-start the discussions in Oslo.
These steps included the release of communist rebels and facilitating their travel to Norway to take part in the negotiations, he said.
But the head of the rebels’ delegation, Luis Jalandoni, was more cautious about reaching a political settlement after 30 years of failed talks.
“I think we will try to do it in one year but it might take a little more time because the negotiations on social and economic reforms could take more time,” he said.
“It’s more complicated than some may think,” he said.
The first meeting in Oslo will cover five major points:
• Affirmation of previously signed agreements;
• Accelerated process for negotiations, including the timeline for the completion of the remaining substantive agenda for the talks: socioeconomic reforms; political and economic reforms; and end of hostilities and disposition of forces;
• Reconstitution of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) list
• Amnesty proclamation for the release of all detained political prisoners, subject to concurrence by Congress; and
• the mode of an interim ceasefire.
Established in December 1968, Communist Party of the Philippines launched a rebellion three months later that has so far claimed the lives of 30,000 people, according to official estimates.
The New People’s Army, 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.
The closed-door talks in Oslo wrap up on Friday.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he hopes the ceasefire declared by the communist rebels would last longer than the announced seven days.
A longer truce would allow the government to focus on various development projects needed in the countryside, he said.
The rebel ceasefire took effect 12:01 a.m. of Aug. 21 and will last until 11:59 p.m. of Aug. 27.
Duterte, in his first State of the Nation Address on July 25, declared a unilateral ceasefire against the rebels as a sign of goodwill.
He lifted it five days later, however, after NPA attacks against militiamen in Compostela Valley killed one and wounded four others on July 27, and the failure of the rebels to reciprocate the President’s unilateral ceasefire.
Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, a local government adviser of the government peace panel, said LGUs have a crucial role in the peace process.
“The resumption of talks will eventually lead to the role that local officials will play, especially in the implementation of socioeconomic reforms under the framework of whatever agreement is forged,” he said.
Bautista and Angeles City Mayor Edgar Pamintuan were named advisers of the government panel.