I believe that Secretary Dureza, the dynamic Presidential Adviser on the Peace processes, and his colleagues had hoped to find clement weather when they arrived in Rome to attend the Third Round of talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) at the end of January. But they surely must have been disappointed: the Eternal City was experiencing an unusual cold spell which probably made him miss the nice warm beaches of Mindanao where he comes from.
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On the other hand, they must have been encouraged by the peace talks: the government and the NDF submitted drafts on key reform proposals, signed side agreements to resolve contentious issues and scheduled informal meetings to fast-track the completion of a peace deal. And more importantly, they set new dates for further official talks, exemplarily facilitated by the Norwegian Government.
Keeping the pace in peace talks is essential as peace processes are always long bumpy roads. A steady pace is needed to keep the right momentum.
I am impressed by the pace of the current Administration in trying to attain peace with the NDF. It remains promising despite the recent series of attacks and harassments by alleged New People’s Army (NPA) elements in various areas nationwide and the following NPA’s termination of the five-month-old ceasefire with the Philippine government.
What is alarming are the reports from Mindanao on the continuous criminal violence of the Abu Sayyaf (ASG) and its affiliated networks in the Sulu Archipelago through hijackings, piracy, kidnappings and on Bangsamoro splinter groups and outfits such as the Maute Brothers and smaller supposedly Daesh-affiliated cells which are potential sources for recruitment and radicalization of youth.
Even if the majority of these local groups will be severely weakened by the vehement response of the Government in the next months, their raison d’être will not go away and they remain a potential destabilising factor for the entire process.
I believe that it would be crucial to build on the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) signed on 27 March 2014 so as not to lose the impressive achievements the parties were able to make over the last years, to mitigate the frustration of the people and prevent violent extremism at grassroot level.
For this reason the European Union has recently approved a new contribution amounting to P214 million for the next year and half in support of the Peace process with the aim to support the Government in the monitoring of the situation to diffuse tensions on the ground and to support confidence building, and creating a more inclusive political platform, bringing together Mindanao’s diverse population.
On the development side, while our programs in supporting livelihood in conflict affected areas are at full speed, we are fielding two groups of experts which in the coming months will help us formulate relevant programs on job creation and on support livelihood and development in Mindanao. This will help us avoid gaps between our interventions and to make the peace dividends more attainable for the local population of Mindanao.
The European Union and its Member States have been supporting the peace process for many years and are always ready to support the Government in its efforts to bring long lasting peace in Mindanao. Peace and stability are also crucial elements for economic development; and we have seen in the Philippines Development Plan how lacking development has been in Mindanao for many years. The EU is ready not only to continue our support to Mindanao, but also to increase it by supporting peace and development in the most needed areas in strong coordination with the Government.
In this respect, I appreciate the efforts of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to team up with international partners in supporting peace. To have international support in peace processes – although they are truly domestic ones – could help in keeping developments on track and in receiving the necessary boost if the situation deteriorates. Secretary Dureza’s visit on 24 January to New York where he spoke on the current status of the Philippine peace process at the UN is a positive evidence of the open attitude of the Government not only to take the peace process to the global stage but also to offer some lessons learnt from the Philippines.
I know that Secretary Dureza is not tired after shuttling from Manila to Rome and New York, working for peace. I would be pleased to see him in Europe in the next months to strengthen our relation.
However, the other peace process, with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in which the European Union is deeply involved, being a partner of the Government since 2010, appears to be slower.
But it is not only a matter of pace. In fact, Secretary Dureza and his staff have worked tirelessly and assiduously over the last months in order to promote the convergence of the two Moro factions which ended successfully with the appointment of three MNLF representatives to the just formed Bangsamoro Transition Commission. They have also been working to set up a framework to channel funds in support of the Government’s Peace and Development Roadmap.
(Franz Jessen is the Ambassador of the European Union.)
Source: Philippine Star