(YEARENDER) Peace process moving forward dramatically

President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed his determination to achieve an enduring and sustainable peace in the country as it is willing and ready to go back to the negotiating table with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the CPP/NPA/NDF.

The President, in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25, said: "We will strive to have a permanent and lasting peace before my term ends. That is my goal. That is my dream."

Even during the campaign period, Duterte already made the promise to talk peace with the CPP/NPA/NDF and to implement the peace agreements with the MILF and the MNLF.

He hit the ground running that even before his assumption to office, the President named Secretary Jesus Dureza and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III as the government's chief peace negotiators.

In the almost six months of the Duterte administration, efforts to achieve peace resulted to two rounds for the government and the National Democratic Front(NDF), and three rounds for the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

"One of our major advocacies now - and our intention really is to move the peace process forward. So far, for the six months of the Duterte administration, we have moved forward dramatically," Dureza has said.

From August 22 to 28, Negotiators from both sides(GPH-NDF), held peace talks in Oslo, Norway in an attempt to hammer out an acceptable solution to end the armed struggle that has claimed thousands of lives since 1969.

After two rounds of peace talks with the Leftist group, the secretary remains optimistic about the positive outcome of the talks as he believes a "level of trust has been reached between the Leftist groups and the Government."

"Our talks with CPP-NPA-NDF, which were stalled for four years in the previous administration we have just finished the second round of talks and will resume the third round next January.? Communities affected by conflict have been quiet, with the NPA and AFP no longer squeezing their weapons," Dureza said.

Dureza said his optimism in the success of the peace talks stems from his belief that President Duterte's strong political will is helping the peace process to move forward and ensuring all parties come together in the peace process.

Dureza said President Duterte has already declared a unilateral ceasefire of offense operations against the CPP-NPA and also released 20 political prisoners based on humanitarian grounds to help facilitate the talks.

During the Oslo talks, both peace panels agreed on six major agenda. These include the reaffirmation of previously signed agreements, reconstitution of the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) list, acceleration of the formal talks in the peace negotiations, release of political prisoners, amnesty proclamation by President Duterte and mode of interim ceasefire.

The session reaffirmed all previously signed agreements namely, The Hague Joint Declaration in 1992, the JASIG in 1996 and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law 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 government statement said.

"The Philippine government will issue documents of acknowledgment for the NDF consultants still in hiding and for the 54 'publicly known NDF personalities'," it said.

It added the parties agreed to accelerate the peace negotiations and set timelines for the completion of the remaining substantive agenda.

Still to be discussed in detail are socioeconomic reforms; political and constitutional reforms; and, end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

The parties also have to tackle the details of the amnesty proclamation, joint monitoring committees, further releases of detained NDF personnel, and the modality and mechanics of the ceasefire.

Dureza called the Oslo round a milestone under the Duterte administration, and "an accomplishment 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," he 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.

Bello, said they are looking towards "a final peace agreement with the NDF to end almost half a century of armed hostilities across the Philippine countryside."

For his part, NDF peace panel head Luis Jalandoni acknowledged the determination of President Duterte of ending the almost 50-year old armed conflict in the country and forging peace with the rebel forces.

"Good news to the Filipino people that the political prisoners would be released, and land reform and other social and economic reforms will be seriously undertaken. So, the farmers of Hacienda Luisita and Hacienda Look may be gladdened that these steps are going forward," Jalandoni said.

"But we need the people to continue building their strength to defend their rights and to work with us in bringing about a just and lasting peace in our country," he added.

Dureza however said that what comprises the bigger part of their peace work is "no longer just negotiations, but it is to improve the lives of the people on the ground, especially in conflict-affected areas or fragile communities that face challenges because of armed conflict in their area."

He said the Philippines needs support from the international community in order to achieve that.

Thus, he recently met with officials from the World Bank in Washington, DC, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark in New York to discuss the development aspects of the peace process.

According to the World Bank, over 60% of the world's poor population will be found in countries dealing with conflict or areas experiencing issues of fragility. In the Philippines' case, areas in Mindanao, the southern region of the Philippines that has long been embroiled in insurgency, hold the highest poverty levels in the country. Poverty in the region is almost twice the national average.

As to the Muslims in Mindanao, Dureza said that there is a need to address the historical injustice to the Muslims and the setting up a federal system will be the end game.

"If it happens. But before that, we are able to entrench a new Bangsamoro government unit that will be very close to a federal state for the Bangsamoro," Dureza said.

The Duterte is exerting efforts to save a peace deal with Moro separatist rebels clinched by the Aquino administration.

The President Duterte has signed an order reconstituting the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that will draft a new Bangsamoro law.

The new draft law will be a combination of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which failed to get Congress' nod as the term of the Aquino administration ended earlier this year, and major provisions of the government's 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The President had met with leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace agreement with the Aquino administration in 2014 and helped draw up the BBL.

Dureza said some members of the MNLF faction led by the group's founding leader Nur Misuari were appointed to the BTC.

Misuari has emerged from three years of hiding to help push the peace process.

And, on government's request, a court in Pasig City suspended the warrant for the arrest of Misuari, wanted for the three-week siege of Zamboanga City in September 2013 that left 220 people dead, 254 others wounded, and more than 100,000 people displaced. More than 10,000 homes were destroyed in the fighting between government forces and Misuari's followers.

The President also met Misuari in MalacaAang and promised to cooperate with the government in the quest for peace in Mindanao.

Dureza said the BTC will harmonize the BBL and the 1996 peace accord with the MNLF to produce a new draft law that would establish a Bangsamoro autonomous region in Mindanao.

"Hopefully, we can input all of these harmonious provisions in all the agreements and come up with a new enabling law," he said.

"The peace process in Mindanao is on track with both the MILF and the MNLF on board for a more inclusive resolution to the conflict. They are now willing to sit at the peace table and work together with the government to address the historical injustices committed against the Moro people," the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace process has said.

The move, according to Dureza, was an unprecedented and historic development."

But beyond talking with the MILF and the MNLF, Dureza said he planned to win support from the public as well as from lawmakers for the effort to bring peace to Mindanao.

He said he did not want a situation similar to Colombia, where citizens has rejected in a plebiscite a peace agreement between the government and communist rebels.

He also said he wanted to prevent a repeat of Congress' rejection of the proposed BBL.

Is the elusive peace in the country be finally achieved during President Duerte's term?

Source: Philippines News Agency

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