President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process to step up the government peace process with the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa- Pilipinas and its military arm, the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade, which has the bulk of its forces in Western Visayas.
“PNoy wants to put a close to all of this armed conflicts before his term ends…we are now focusing our attention on the RPA-ABB,” said Undersecretary Luisito Montalbo, OPAPP executive director, who met with Jose Ma. Valencia, chief of staff of Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr., at the Capitol in Bacolod City, yesterday.
The RPM-P/RPA-ABB signed a peace agreement with the national government in Don Salvador Benedicto town in Negros Occidental on Dec. 10, 2000 witnessed by then President Joseph Estrada.
However, the government has yet to fully comply with the confidence building measures agreed on, including the implementation of development projects in RPM-P/RPA-ABB identified areas, that would lead to the eventual disarmament of the rebel group’s forces.
Former President Gloria Arroyo had also ordered the fast-tracking of the implementation of the provisions of the peace pact, but no closure had been reached when she stepped down last year.
Montalbo said they have had serious discussions with Veronica Tabara, chair of the RPM-P, on completing the peace process.
“We are also going to the ground to talk to the different stakeholders to get their own assessment on how to move this particular process forward,” Montalbo said.
He said, hopefully, sometime late this year or early next year, the government and the RPM-P/RPA-ABB can sign an agreement for closure to the peace process.
“Our hope is that the rebels will be transformed into a political economic force, while guaranteeing their security and providing them opportunities to become economically viable,” Montalbo said.
He also said they were getting positive feedback from the Negros Occidental provincial government that has strong programs to help the RPM-P/RPA-ABB in their transition process to becoming economically viable.
The provincial government can take a strong lead with the national government coming in to provide additional resources if necessary to make that happen, he added.
Montalbo said the OPAPP was separately dealing with the two RPM-P/RPA-ABB groups who split in 2007 – one is headed by Tabara and the other by Nilo de la Cruz.
Disarmament of their forces is part of the discussion, but their security concerns will also have to be addressed, he added.
Valencia said security for the RPM-P/RPA-ABB is important as they could be killed by their former comrades in the New People’s Army.
He told Montalbo that they should also fast-track the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic Front/NPA to ensure peace among all the forces, Valencia said.
Valencia also stressed the need to improve the economic situation of the poor in the countryside.
“Everything is economics, once you improve the livelihoods in the rural areas you will solve the insurgency problem. The disparity between the rich and the poor in the province is very apparent, we want to change that by implementing more programs to uplift lives,” he said.
Montalbo said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Teresita Quintos-Deles, wants to talk directly to the RPM-p/RPA-ABB and do away with the panel of negotiators to hasten the peace process, Valencia added.*CPG