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NDF consultants hopeful Duterte will resume peace talks

HOPEFUL. (L-R) Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center, Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, Niki Gamara, and Cristina Palabay of KARAPATAN during a press conference in Quezon City on February 15, 2017. Photo by Darren Langit

MANILA, Philippines – Consultants of the communist National Democratic Front (NDF) remain hopeful that President Rodrigo Duterte will resume talks even as local courts begin the process of potentially cancelling the bail of rebels-turned-consultants.

NDF lawyer Edre Olalia said on Wednesday, February 15, that the motions of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) were "premature" because the talks have not been formally terminated. He claimed Duterte has not even met with the government negotiators to make a final decision on the status of the talks.

Duterte is also expected to discuss the peace talks with Cabinet secretaries nominated by the Left, along with chief government negotiator Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

Olalia asked: What happens if the consultants are arrested and the negotiating panels decide to go back to the peace table? (READ: Immigration put on alert over NDF consultants)

Rey Casambre of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, also an NDF consultant, said he sees signs that Duterte will change his mind about scrapping the talks.

Another NDF lawyer, Rachel Pastores, said the gains in the 3 rounds of negotiations should weigh most heavily in deciding the future of the talks. She noted the progress that panels have made in discussing the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER), considered the heart and soul of the peace process because it aims to resolve the root causes of conflict.

Pastores said the panels have agreed "in principle" on the free distribution of land, for one. She also cited willingness by the NDF panel to discuss the proposed bilateral ceasefire agreement.

Duterte scrapped the talks and the immunities of the NDF consultants days after the communist armed wing New People’s Army (NPA) terminated its 5-month-old unilateral ceasefire because of supposed ceasefire abuses by the military.

The military also reported alleged ceasefire abuses by the communist rebels.

The OSG has since filed motions to cancel the bail of the consultants. Pastores, meanwhile, said they have filed comments to oppose the OSG motions against Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, Tirso Alcantara, and Alan Jazmines.

It is too late for Concha Araneta Bocala, whose bail was cancelled by a local court after she failed to appear in her arraignment last week. Bocala, who comes from a landed family in the Visayas, is the tagged leader of the NPA in Western Visayas. –