Withdrawal of charges vs 'Morong 43' part of the government’s confidence building measure

December 12, 2010 10:44 am 

By Ben Cal

MANILA, Dec. 11 – The order of President Benigno S. Aquino III to withdraw the charges filed against the so-called "Morong 43" augurs well of the government’s sincerity and confidence building measure for the peace process to succeed.

It comes at a crucial time when the government negotiating panel prepares to meet the peace panel of the communist National Democratic Front (NDF) for another informal talk in Oslo, Norway next month to thresh out details of the resumption of formal negotiations in February 2011.

The dialogue in Norway will be the second for both sides in a month’s time.

On Dec. 1-2, Health Undersecretary Alexander A. Padilla, who is also the government’s chief peace negotiator with the NDF, held one-on-one talk with his NDF counterpart, Luis Jalandoni, in Hong Kong.

Although it was the first meeting between the two panel heads, it was a fruitful one, considering that both parties agreed to a 19-day Christmas truce that will start on Dec. 16, 2010 until midnight of Jan. 3, 2011.

For the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), it welcomed the order of the President to withdraw the criminal charges filed by the government against the Morong 43 who were tagged earlier by the military as members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has been waging a protracted insurgency war now on its 41st year, the longest-running communist insurgency war in Asia.

Brig. Gen. Jose Z. Mabanta Jr., AFP spokesman, said that the decision of the President is a “strong instrument for national reconciliation” at a time when formal talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF will resume after five years of hiatus.

Mabanta added that the order of the President confirms that the government “upholds the path of a peaceful and democratic resolution of the conflict within our midst.”

The NDF pulled out from the negotiations in August 2005 after the United States tagged the NPA as a terrorist organization.

However, without fanfare, back-channeling talks continued between the two sides to keep the doors open to revive the stalled peace talks.

The recent meeting in Hong Kong between Padilla and Jalandoni broke the ice, so to speak, after both sides not only agreed to a Christmas ceasefire but to meet again in Oslo next month for another informal dialogue prior to the resumption of formal negotiations.

As a background, the Morong 43 members were arrested last February in Morong, Rizal while allegedly engaged in bomb-making seminar. The suspects said they were health workers.

But military stood pat that the suspects were NPA rebels.

“The Armed Forces abides with the rule of law and bows to the justice system and to our commander in chief,” Mabanta said.

He maintained that the military did its role in arresting the 43 under a legitimate internal security operation.

Mabanta also said that the AFP is ready to face any counter suit that may be filed by the Morong 43.

“If ever counter suits will be filed against us, or the arresting authorities, then we would welcome it. In effect, the arresting officers would be given a chance to prove the merits of their contention on the legitimacy of their action,” he said.

“Let us bear in mind that there is always a presumption of regularity on the performance of duty by public officers unless proven otherwise in courts,” Mabanta added.

The order to free the Moro 43 is a sincere gesture of the government to jump-start anew the stalled peace talks.

The communist insurgency in the Philippines has been in existence for the past 41 years. It is one of the world’s longest-running insurgency wars.

The NPA was founded in March 1969 and by 1986, its strength had ballooned to about 25,600, its highest peak.

But the AFP mounted its highly successful “Lambat Bitag” campaign that by 1994, NPA fighters had been drastically cut to a little over 6,000.

However, the NPA rebuilt its strength that by the year 2000 it had gone up to 12,000, only to be cut down again to about 4,000 rebels at the end of November 2010 due to combat losses and mass surrenders after the government launched its Social Integration Program (SIP) that extends livelihood to rebels who surrendered.

The new round of talks scheduled early next year could pave the way to finally put a dot to the over four-decades of insurgency warfare and give peace-loving Filipinos a break for the country to move towards economic development and prosperity. (PNA Features)

scs/RBC/jsd

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