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OPAPP bucks backchannel talks with Reds

MANILA, Philippines — The government is not conducting backchannel talks with communists, presidential adviser on the peace process Jesus Dureza said last Friday.

In a television interview, Dureza added that since there is no clear directive from President Duterte to hold such discussion with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF), the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) is pursuing peace through other means.

However, he expressed optimism that the peace process will move forward this year despite setbacks in talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF.

“The work of OPAPP is to look for ways and means to move the peace process forward,” Dureza said. “You have to deal with a culture of peace in the communities. You have to work for social healing of broken relationships because of conflict. You have to take care of victims of conflict. There are many ways.”

OPAPP follows “Six Paths to Peace” toward a comprehensive peace process: 1) pursuit of social, economic and political reforms; 2) consensus-building and empowerment for peace; 3) peaceful negotiated settlement with different rebel groups; 4) programs for reconciliation, reintegration into mainstream society and rehabilitation; 5) addressing concerns arising from continuing armed hostilities and 6) building and nurturing a climate conducive to peace.

If the public believes that the omission of the NDF from the list of terrorist groups is an indication that there is still hope for the resumption of talks, “then we can affirm that the doors have not been totally shut,” Dureza said.

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Within the past couple of years, there have been four rounds of talks between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF, resulting in agreements such as the unilateral ceasefire from August to December 2016 and the supplemental guidelines for the Joint Monitoring Committee for the observance of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

While foreign terrorists may be entering the country, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) assured the public yesterday that they are doing everything to ensure public security and safety.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesman, said it is also possible that terror groups, including the NPA, are recruiting members even in Metro Manila.

In a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo, Arevalo said the groups may be trying to recruit members to continue their fight against the government.

He also noted that the possibility of foreign terrorists entering the country cannot be discounted because of the many entry points of the archipelago.

“However, we assure you that the government, particularly the Armed Forces of the Philippines, will frustrate their efforts to increase their membership,” he said in Filipino.

Arevalo said the public should remain vigilant and report suspicious characters to the authorities so that proper action can be taken. 

He added that part of the foreign terrorist problem was addressed in the Marawi siege, where most of the threats were neutralized.  – With Michael Punongbayan

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