Manila – The Philippine communists seem to have second thoughts about abandoning peace talks with the "crumbling" Arroyo administration. Last week, leaders of the National Democratic Front (NDF), who are living in self-exile in the Netherlands, declared the communist-led organisation’s unilateral withdrawal from the negotiations. However, this week, the Front clarified that the peace talks had been merely postponed, not suspended indefinitely.
In an interview from Utrecht on Aug 1, communist leader Jose Ma Sison said the formal peace talks had only been postponed to give the Arroyo government time to comply with certain questions raised by the Front, the Communist Party of the Philippines' (CCP) political arm.
Mr Sison, 65, said: "The ball is on the side of the (Philippine government). There are some prejudicial questions that must be answered and addressed satisfactorily by both sides which concern the terrorist listing of CPP and NPA (New People’s Army)."
He was referring to the decision of the United States and the European Union to place himself, the CCP/NPA/NDF on their list of terrorists and terrorist organisations. The NDF had accused the Arroyo government of having a hand in the listing to force the group to surrender.
Whatever term the Front chooses to use in describing the state of peace talks, the Philippine government has decided to take a definite position – that the talks have indeed been suspended indefinitely, said Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita on Aug 3.
This means that immunity for nearly 100 senior communist guerrillas who took part in the negotiations has been lifted and they now face arrest. The immunity agreement had allowed the rebel leaders to move freely around the country without fears of arrest.
"They (NDF) are making vague statements. One day they are withdrawing from the talks and the next day they will say that they are just postponing it. Maybe they are just concerned about the effects [of the agreement suspension] especially to their people in the Philippines who are listed in it," said Mr Ermita.
In a commentary in The Manila Times, writer Julius F Fortuna urged both parties not to be short-sighted. He wrote: "The government is wrong in hitting the NDF. But the NDF is also wrong for walking out of the peace negotiations. The win-win situation is still the continuation of the Oslo talks, based on terms that have been started in The Hague."
* Red leaders face arrest as government cancels ‘passes’ (The Manila Times, Aug 4)
* GRP, NDF should talk again (The Manila Times, Aug 3)
* Joma: Peace talks merely postponed (The Philippine Star, Aug 2)