Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Army commander in Bicol pushes localized peace talks
By Bobby Q. Labalan

SORSOGON CITY, April 3 (PNA) —- A top official of the 903rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army operating in Bicol said they are working out a localized peace talk between between the military and the New People’s Army with the Army taking the initiative.

Col. Fernando Trinidad, commanding officer of the 903rd Infantry Brigade, in an interview, has called on the members of the communist rebel organization to return to the fold of the law.

He said he has started the ball rolling for a possible talk with local guerrilla leaders even as he expressed full support to the ongoing informal peace talks between the government and National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panels.

“We can stop fighting to talk and if we fail to reach an agreement then we can resume fighting again,” Trinidad said.

He added he has initially coordinated with some sectors, including the church, non-government organizations and community leaders who could help push the local peace talk.

Trinidad said the government still has the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) wherein rebel returnees are provided with cash grants and livelihood programs.

“Rebels who surrender with their firearms are given an additional amount,” he added.

However, Trinidad’s idea was shot down by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)-Sorsogon which also supports the peace negotiations between the government and the NDF at the national level.

Rey Hababag, BAYAN-Sorsogon spokesperson, said engaging in a local peace talk would only muddle the peace process.

“Even as we speak, we hear statements from the military which are different or opposed to the statements of the government peace panel or even Malacañang,” Hababag stressed.

He said holding a separate peace talk at the local level would only complicate the issues and would just cause confusion.

Hababag said they are only fully supportive of the peace talks now ongoing in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

The peace negotiation bogged down earlier this year after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered government negotiators to discontinue the talks with the NDF panel.

Immediately after the negotiation was severed, both sides also discontinued the ceasefires declared by both sides which had resulted in encounters between government troops and communist guerrillas.

In Sorsogon, the latest encounter between Army troops and the rebels occurred last March 16 at Barangay (village) Tugas, Matnog.

Trinidad said sporadic skirmishes between the two sides are still to be expected despite the declaration of Sorsogon province as a “conflict-manageable, development-ready” area.

He said although the clashes could not be totally eliminated, he expressed confidence that development projects could be carried out in the province because the rebel forces have been reduced to an insignificant level in Sorsogon.

Trinidad said this means the projects could be carried out with lesser apprehension of harassment from the NPA. (PNA) LAP/BQL/EBP