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Best discussed in negotiating table

09:25 PM August 30, 2011

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), the broadest ecumenical formation of church leaders advocating formal peace negotiations between the Philippine government (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), is alarmed over recent statements that don’t augur well for the continuation of the formal peace talks.

After the spark of hope created by the GPH-NDFP formal peace talks last February with its issuance of the Feb. 21, 2011 Oslo Joint Statement, these media statements, which come from both GPH Peace Panel chair Alex Padilla and NDFP Peace Panel spokesperson Fidel Agcaoili could result in another postponement of the talks, which have already been postponed last June. We worry that another postponement could effectively derail the peace negotiations.

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The issue that triggered the exchange was the release of NDFP consultants who, the NDFP claims, are covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig). The NDFP called for a postponement of the talks last June to give GPH time to release the consultants. The GPH has already released four consultants, but the NDFP insists that GPH honor the Feb. 21 Joint Statement by releasing all consultants covered by the Jasig. The GPH recently stated that until the reciprocal working committees on Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (Caper) shall have completed the common tentative agreement on social and economic reforms, the talks will be postponed indefinitely and there will be no formal talks on issues concerning the Jasig. This in turn was seen by the NDFP as a move to scuttle the negotiations.

In this light, we would like to appeal to both panels to iron out their differences and proceed with the formal peace talks. We believe that it is best to engage in principled debate across the negotiating table. We urge both sides to abide by their own reaffirmation of the validity and binding effect of all previous bilateral agreements, as stated in the February Joint Statement. This includes the Jasig. We have previously stated that both parties “…follow the spirit of the Jasig as it is a crucial issue around the formal peace talks” and that “…its faithful implementation enables the two parties to resume the negotiations in earnest.” (“Resolve the Issue on Jasig, Resume the Formal Peace Talks” PEPP Statement, June 8, 2011)

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One of the major developments last February was the setting up of a timetable for the negotiations. For advocates, the schedules indicated in the timetable can be the guideposts to peace. We call on both panels to work hard in order to meet the proposed schedules. If both sides abide by this, and try to build bridges instead of hurdles, and we reiterate this—through principled negotiations—our country will enjoy what the Psalmist promised, “a future awaits those who seek peace” (Psalms 37:37).

—MOST REV. DEOGRACIAS S. IÑIGUEZ JR., D.D., head of the secretariat;

ARCHBISHOP ANTONIO J. LEDESMA, SJ, DD and SHARON ROSE JOY RUIZ-DUREMDES,

co-chairpersons,

Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform

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