Guidelines for localized peace talks set

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 12) — The Duterte Cabinet has finalized the guidelines local government officials should follow in talking peace with communist rebels.

President Rodrigo Duterte will sign an executive order to spell out the guidelines, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Thursday.

The guidelines were set during Duterte's meeting with the security, peace and justice clusters of the Cabinet on Wednesday. Also present were Senate President Tito Sotto, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, and some local government officials.

In a media briefing, Roque said the framework states that the local government should not compromise "constitutional integrity and sovereignty" in handling the talks.

It said the talks should push for the "complete and genuine resolution of the local armed conflict," waged by members of the New People's Army (NPA).

The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which has waged a five-decade armed insurgency, the longest-running in Asia.

"If there is a ceasefire, the constitutional mandate of the state to protect public safety, civilian welfare, critical infrastructure and private properties, and the guarantee of rule and order will not be compromised at all times," according to the guidelines read by Roque. 

Duterte walked away from negotiations with communist rebels in November 2017 as both sides accused each other of violating their own unilateral ceasefire declarations.

The talks were supposed to resume last June, but Duterte postponed it for a three-month review. This sparked a word war between government officials and the communist leadership, particularly CPP founding chairman Joma Sison who said they would rather wait for a new government and participate in Duterte's ouster than talk peace with his administration.

READ: Palace opts for localized peace talks, says Sison now 'irrelevant'

Duterte set the same conditions for the conduct of localized peace talks: that it should be done in a local venue; with no provisions for coalition government or power sharing; no revolutionary taxes, extortion arson and violent activities; and that the rebel fighters should remain in their pre-designated encampment areas.

The government's guidelines also said rebels can be offered amnesty "based on disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration to the mainstream of society."

The CPP earlier said Duterte is trying to "completely shut down" the peace talks by making "unacceptable" demands, including asking for the talks to be held in the Philippines instead of a neutral, third-party venue.

Malacañang has said the local government's talks with the rebels have been proven successful in the past, as evidenced by the surrender of fighters.