OSLO, NORWAY— They all came with guarded optimism and managed expectations.
When they leave tomorrow, August 27, they will be bringing results beyond what they were hoping for.
It was swift and cordial but nevertheless substantive and intense.
None of the acrimonious exchanges happened.
Instead, the discussions were jovial punctuated by off-the-cuff remarks and banters that periodically made everybody in the room laughing out loud.
Some giggling, even.
Yes, there were breaks in between but they were devoted to discussing the fine prints of the documents and drafts that were passed and handed out across the table.
They capped their discussions and exchange of notes with a boodle fight dinner Thursday evening, August 25.
Peace negotiating panels from the Philippine government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) on Thursday reached agreements on six major agenda taken up at the resumption of the formal peace negotiations here in Oslo.
The unprecedented and historic pace and conclusion of this Oslo round left the host Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) very pleased and satisfied.
The round is highlighted with indefinite ceasefire declaration, which both parties have already declared or will announce, as the peace process moves into the succeeding rounds to hammer out details of a negotiated political settlement.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus G. Dureza said the Oslo round is a milestone under the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
It is an accomplishment, he added, that would be welcomed by the Filipino people.
“Not only has President Duterte walked the extra mile. He has also taken a step back to give the NDF space under his democratic and inclusive government,” Dureza said.
“We will go home with a promise of a just and lasting peace and our soldiers and the combatants of the NDF finally coming to terms that the war must end,” he added.
Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III, head of the GRP negotiating panel, expressed thanks and appreciation for the patience and candidness of their counterparts across the table with whom he has been holding formal and backdoor negotiations for more than 14 years.
Extending his arms across the table signifying the conclusion of the discussions of the major agenda and after initialing the draft documents for finalization into a joint statement, Bello said the Philippine government is looking towards a final peace agreement with the NDF to end almost half a century of armed hostilities across the Philippine countryside.
His remarks were reciprocated by NDF peace panel head Luis Jalandoni who expressed their gratitude towards the determination of President Duterte of ending the war in the country and forging peace with the rebel forces.
He said the releases of 21 detained NDF consultants were crucial in the resumption of the peace negotiations.
At 11 am (5 pm Philippine time), both panels will sign and read a joint statement announcing the agreements forged between the two negotiating panels during the August 22-25 peace talks held at the scenic mountaintop Holmenkollen Park Hotel, venue of negotiations of armed conflicts across the globe.
RNG representative Elizabeth Slattum did not hide her amazement and said her government is very pleased with the success of the formal opening rounds of the resumed GRP-NDF peace negotiations.
The formal session was the first after five years and it reaffirmed all previously signed agreements between the GRP and the NDF that was started by The Hague Joint Declaration in 1992 and proceeded by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) in 1996 and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) in 1998.
All three documents were signed under the Ramos administration.
The panels also agreed to reconstitute the JASIG list after the first document was corrupted. The encrypted list will contain the photos and identities of NDF consultants who are still underground who will be immune to arrest while the peace process is undergoing.
The Philippine government will issue documents of acknowledgement for the NDF consultants still in hiding and for the 54 “publicly known NDF personalities.”
The negotiating parties likewise agreed to accelerate the peace negotiations and set timelines for the completion of the remaining substantive agenda.
Still to be discussed in detail are: socio-economic reforms; political and constitutional reforms; and, end of hostilities and disposition of forces.
Also to be fleshed out in details are: amnesty proclamation; joint monitoring committees; further releases of detained NDF personnel; and the modality and mechanics of the ceasefire.
Peace talks between the GRP and the NDF were suspended in 2011.
President Duterte had promised to reopen talks and release all imprisoned rebel leaders during the election campaign period.
The President has since accommodated several leaders from the Left in his government including appointing some of them to key Cabinet positions.
He announced a reimposition of an indefinite unilateral ceasefire declaration when talks were resumed on August 22.
The NDF had also earlier declared a seven-day unilateral ceasefire for the duration of the Oslo talks but has already committed to reciprocate the President’s announcement with an indefinite unilateral declaration of its own.
The panels will hold its final meeting at 11 am (Oslo time) today, August 26, with the signing of a joint statement before heading back home.