There should no longer be any doubt that President Rodrigo Duterte is serious and determined to find a peaceful solution to the decades old communist insurgency in the country following the release of Benito and Wilma Tiamzon this morning, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said today.
The Tiamzons are the last among the detained ranking members of the National Democratic Front (NDF) to walk out as free persons although the court granted only temporary passes for the duration of the formal peace talks which is slated to begin Monday, August 22, in Oslo, Norway.
“With their release, in addition to more than a dozen of NDF consultants earlier granted bail and already freed, one more stumbling block is removed. We are looking forward to a fruitful but intense negotiations in Oslo,” Dureza said.
Peace negotiations between the Philippine government (GPH) and the NDF were suspended in 2012 due to several disagreements topped by the alleged continued arrests and detention of rebel consultants.
The Tiamzons were the highest-ranking rebel leaders to fell into government hands. They were captured in Cebu City in March last year. Benito Tiamzon was the chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines while his wife Wilma was the secretary general.
Efforts were pursued to re-open the peace talks during the previous administration through the backdoor channeling led by now Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III but these were brought to an abrupt stop after the Mamasapano incident in 2015.
During the May 2016 elections, Duterte, then presidential candidate and Davao City mayor, promised to re-open peace negotiations with the NDF and also gave assurances he will release all detained political prisoners.
The releases had to however undergo the normal judicial procedures required by law and regulations.
On Monday, he ordered the Bureau of Immigration and the Department of Foreign Affairs to assist in providing travel documents and orderly departure of the NDF consultants who will join the NDF panel in Oslo.
Beginning Tuesday this week, the NDF consultants numbering to 22 were issued Philippine passports.
The Philippine embassy of the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) has also started issuing visas to all delegates from both panels who will travel to Norway for the historic reopening of the GRP-NDF peace negotiations.
“We have agreed to expedite the peace process by simultaneously holding negotiations on five major agenda items by creating respective reciprocal working groups,” Dureza said.
This explains, he added, the large number of NDF consultants who are travelling abroad.
The peace panels are expected to immediately tackle the following, social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces, ceasefire, joint security and immunity and release of political detainees.
The government said more than 550 members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, are still under government custody in various detention centers throughout the country.
President Duterte has already promised to follow the release of elderly and sick communist rebels on humanitarian grounds while the mode of the releases of the remaining rebels will be subject of the negotiations.
The president however has said he will declare a general amnesty for all communist rebels.
GPH panel head Silvestre Bello has already left for Saudi Arabia but will travel directly to Oslo in time for the arrival of the Philippine delegation.
Other members of the GPH panel are lawyers Rene Sarmiento, Antonio Arellano and Angela Librado-Trinidad. The fifth member, former Agrarian Reform Secretary Hernani Braganza had already left ahead to confer with the NDF panel in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
The Philippine delegation will leave for Oslo tomorrow evening, August 20.
The peace talks are scheduled for August 22-26.
Dureza yesterday said the government of Norway is underwriting the travel expenses of the NDF delegation.
RNG is hosting the peace talks as a third party facilitator.