Peace talks to resume likely next month: Bello

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    BY GERARD NAVAL and VICTOR REYES

    IF everything falls into place, peace negotiations between government and the communist group will likely resume next month, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said yesterday.

    President Duterte cancelled the formal negotiations and dissolved the government peace panel in March this year, after four rounds of formal talks starting in 2016.

    “If the decision of the President would be good, we will probably resume (the talks) by the second or third week of January,” said Bello, who was the government’s chief peace negotiator, said in a radio interview.

    He declined to elaborate, saying he is leaving it the President to disclose details of the resumption of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and the New People’s Army (NPA).

    “I don’t want to preempt the President. He is the one who will make the announcement,” he said in an interview with reporters.

    Late Wednesday, Bello said CPP founder Jose Maria “Joma” Sison has agreed to resume the talks. He was sent by Duterte to the Netherlands to talk with Sison.

    “I don’t want to give any details on the result of our talks. But what is important is that we talked and they are willing to resume the talks,” Bello said on Wednesday.

    Sison yesterday said the NDFP, of which he is chief political consultant, agreed to resume the talks “provided certain issues are first settled.”

    Sison did not elaborate on the “issues.”

    National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has said Duterte wants the formal talks be held in the Philippines. Sison has said the precondition was “totally unacceptable” because it will only open NDFP negotiators and consultants to government surveillance.

    The formal talks were held in the Netherlands, Norway, and Italy.

    Sison reiterated his willingness to meet with President Duterte face to face.

    “I hope that at a certain point in time I shall meet President Duterte,” he said.

    In May last year, Sison said he was willing to meet with Duterte either in Norway or Vietnam for the signing of an interim peace agreement. Sison said the meeting did not push through because Duterte wants the meeting held in the Philippines.