OSLO, NORWAY—Negotiators from the Philippine government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) today, August 25, gave the green light for an accelerated timetable for its Reciprocal Working Committee (RWC) and Reciprocal Working Groups (RWG) to complete work on the substantive agenda of the peace talks in less than a year.
The accelerated timetable was agreed upon and submitted to the GRP and NDF panels by their respective working committee and groups, which held simultaneous discussions on Tuesday (Oslo time) afternoon.
"We commend the RWC and RWGs of both panels for working hand-in-hand and agreeing on a fixed timetable for the substantive agenda in record time," said Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, concurrent chair of the government peace panel.
"We, in the government panel, were surprised that the RWC and RWGs came up with agreements in so short a time. Discussions only lasted from nine minutes to 30 minutes. It was really morale-boosting for both panels," Bello said.
As expected, the longest session was reserved for the discussion on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER), which would eventually tackle the most contentious issues, such as agrarian reform, national industrialization, and foreign policy.
The GRP-RWC on CASER is led by Atty. Efren Moncupa, a human rights lawyer and former political detainee, while his counterpart from the NDF is Juliet de Lima-Sison, member of the NDF negotiating panel.
In their report to the panels, the RWC on CASER of both parties agreed to "endeavor to complete work within a period of six months."
Bello noted that CASER is considered the "heart and soul" of the peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDF, pointing out that work on socio-economic reforms would determine the outcome of the talks.
"This committee will work on the most important issue: how to address the root causes of conflict in the Philippines in order to attain just and lasting peace. The sooner CASER is wrapped up, the better for the peace negotiations," Bello explained.
"Fast-tracking discussions on CASER means accelerating the process of seeking political settlement with the NDF and ending almost half a century of armed conflict with communist guerillas," he added.
Bello said the GRP-NDF Working Committees on CASER would hold their first meeting in October 2016 to discuss the framework and outline of the CASER, their work schedule, and methods of work.
The RWGs on Political and Constitutional Reforms (PCR), for their part, agreed to hold their first meeting also in Oslo in synchronization with the RWC on CASER in October.
The RWG on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (EOH-DOF), for its part, agreed to present their respective draft outlines for a Comprehensive Agreement on the substantive issue on 24 October 2016 or the next scheduled Panel meeting, whichever comes first.
Bello explained that the simultaneous discussions of the substantive agenda would improve the chances of the GRP meeting its self-imposed deadline of forging a final peace agreement with the NDF in a year's time.
"We are right on schedule and the talks are proceeding smoothly. We expect a final peace agreement after one year so we can devote five more years of President Rodrigo Duterte's term in implementing the reforms agreed upon by both parties," he said.