By: Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, InterAksyon.com
July 10, 2015 7:57 AM
The online news portal of TV5
MANILA, Philippines — Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and three other leaders of the House of Representatives met with communist leaders living in exile in Utrecht, The Netherlands in what he called an initiative to get stalled peace talks with the rebels back on track.
“It’s more like confidence-building measure,” Belmonte told InterAksyon.com in a text message after meeting Jose Maria Sison, Luis Jalandoni and Ruth de Leon Zumel in a Japanese restaurant in Amsterdam at 6 p.m. on July 9 (2 a.m., July 10, Manila time).
Sison is the founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines and currently chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front, Jalandoni chairs the NDF peace negotiating panel, and Zumel, widow of the late NDF officer Antonio Zumel, heads the Front’s secretariat.
Belmonte was accompanied by Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, Davao Representative and appropriations committee chairman Isidro Ungab, and Romblon Representative and accounts committee chairman Eleandro Jesus Madrona.
Lawyer Edre Olalia, NDF legal counsel, helped arrange the meeting.
The venue of the meeting is about an hour’s drive from The Hague, the Dutch capital where Belmonte attended the first round of oral arguments before the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal on the Philippines’ case against China’s incursion into disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines was represented by a top level team led by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Solicitor General Florin Hilbay.
An earlier report quoted Sison as saying he supported the Philippines’ legal case against China’s “aggressive acts” in the West Philippine Sea.
Sison said he and his wife, Juliet de Lima-Sison, have signed the “Joint manifesto of Filipinos and friends of the Filipino people in the Netherlands” which backs the Philippines’ fight for maritime rights in the disputed territories.
The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, the largest ecumenical formation of church leaders in the country, earlier urged the government and the NDF to immediately resume peace negotiations “to address the roots of the armed conflict.”
“We call on the GPH (government of the Philippines) and NDFP to immediately resume the formal peace talks in order to address the roots of the armed conflict. Along with this call is our appeal to both parties to make themselves more visible and accessible to the public, especially to the organizations accompanying this process,” the PEPP had said in a statement.
The formal peace talks between the government and the NDF were suspended in June 2011.
In 2013, efforts were started for a possible meeting between Sison and President Benigno Aquino III in Hanoi, Vietnam, which would be hosted by the Norwegian government.
But the plan fizzled out after what Jalandoni called the failure of the both sides to come up with a mutually agreed general declaration.
The initiative hoped to replicate the tack the government adopted with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, when Aquino and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim met secretly in Tokyo in 2011 in what was described as a “great leap forward” for efforts to end the decades-long conflict in the southern Philippines.
In March 2014, the government and the MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which concluded 17 years of negotiations between the two parties. The agreement led to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which is being tackled in Congress.