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NDF still optimistic peace talks with gov’t will resume

19 September 2017

By Vir B. Lumicao

The top peace negotiator of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, Fidel Agcaoili, is still optimistic talks with government will resume despite President Rodrigo Duterte declaring that the negotiations are over.

Agcaoili, who visited Hong Kong recently, told The SUN in an interview that he considered the talks in a “suspended animation” in the absence of a formal declaration from Malacañang ending the peace process.

“We are still hopeful and optimistic,” said Agcaoili. “Duterte said na ayaw na niya, pero under the terms of the JASIG (joint agreement on safety and immunity guarantees), kailangan magpadala sila ng formal letter terminating the talks.”

He said government peace negotiators Silvestre Bello III and Jesus Dureza themselves had told him Duterte had not yet sent them such letter.

Under the terms of the JASIG, the government must give the NDFP 30 days to bring its consultants to safety.

Duterte declared the peace talks ended on July 21 after a series of clashes between the New People’s Army and soldiers in Negros, Samar and Davao left several fatalities on both sides.

In the latest incident, four of Duterte’s own security men were wounded in a clash at an NPA checkpoint in Cotabato on July 19. Agcaoili blamed that on the Presidential Security Group, which raided an NPA camp in a rebel-held area.

The two sides would have held their fifth round of talks in The Netherlands on May 27-June 2, but Duterte told the government panel to stay away until there were clear signs “an enabling environment conducive to achieving just and sustainable peace” can be had.

Backchannel consultations were being held to try to work out a resumption of the talks, said the NDF leader, who left Manila on Aug 10 and returned to Hong Kong on Aug 26.

On other key issues, Agcaoili said the NDFP’s views were:
• West Philippine Sea: The government should not abandon the Philippines’ victory at the International Court of Arbitration. “China may not recognize it, but to not assert it, to not fight for it is unpatriotic,” he said.
• Economy: Duterte is lucky to be riding on the economic growth triggered by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s development initiatives that Noynoy Aquino continued.
• Extrajudicial killings: “These have got to stop…No one can just kill 13,000 Filipinos and say wala kang problema. Ang issue ay due process. Hindi puwedeng sabihin ni Duterte na ‘Due process? Wala iyan’.” Agcaoili said.

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