(Updated 8:12 p.m.)
Two days after the historic signing
of the peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday admitted he does not feel confident that a similar agreement will be reached with communist rebels.
Speaking to local and foreign correspondents at the annual Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) forum in Manila, Aquino said while talks have resumed with the communist rebels, he cannot give a timeline on the negotiations.
“Well, the other day I was told that they are renewing dialogue with us. Am I as optimistic? I tend to be pessimistic in the sense of preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” Aquino said.
However, the President said neither the government nor the rebel group - composed of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People's Army, and the National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) that have waged an insurgency for more than 40 years - has closed the door on a possible reconciliation.
“There is some reason to believe that we are moving forward, in terms of the dialogue and the efforts that we are trying to achieve settlement also with the CPP-NPA-NDF,” Aquino said.
Peace talks with the NDF started during the term of the President's mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, in 1986.
The talks did not have much progress during the succeeding administrations, and only informal negotiations are currently taking place in The Netherlands.
Aquino said he cannot provide a timeline for the sensitive talks, but he reassured the public that dialogue has started where it previously has been set aside.
“At this point in time, I cannot tell you that there is a fixed date already when we will announce anything. We're moving forward where previously it had stagnated,” Aquino said. 'Guarded optimism'
Asked to comment on the President's remarks, Sec. Teresita Deles, chief of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said: "It is not news to say that the talks with the NDF are difficult. It has always been difficult. But we continue to hope for the best."
Lawyer Alexander Padilla, chairman of the government peace panel negotiating with the CPP-NPA-NDF, added that the President’s view on the talks with the communist group may be “borne out of past experiences.”
He added that there are “huge differences” between peace talks with the MILF and negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF.
“For one, there was an ongoing ceasefire during talks with the MILF. Dito wala. Sa pronouncements din ng CPP-NPA-NDF, they always say that the negotiations are only a means to their end,” he said.
Padilla remains hopeful of reaching an agreement with the communist group, but “with some guarded optimism.”
Meanwhile, former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, who once headed the NDF peace negotiating panel, said Aquino’s pessimism on the peace talks with the communist group is “no surprise” because the President “has not intervened to push the peace talks.”
The Philippine military has estimated the strength of the NPA, the armed wing of the CPP, to be around 4,000 as of last year. The number of armed guerillas had its peak in the mid-1980s at over 20,000. — Patricia Denise Chiu and Andreo C. Calonzo/RSJ/KBK/YA, GMA News