Labor Secretary and government peace panel (GRP) chair Silvestre H. Bello III said he will ask the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the recent killing of Ariel Diaz, chairperson of the Danggayan Dagiti Mannalon ti Isabela (DAGAMI), and of four farmers within a military reservation camp in Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija.

Bello to NBI: Probe peasant killings
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“I will request the NBI to investigate these dastardly acts to ensure that the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice,” Bello said in a brief message.

This is in response to the statement of Angeles City Mayor Edgardo Pamintuan, adviser of the government peace panel, who, on Thursday, condemned the slayings of the peasant leader and four farmers.

Pamintuan said criminal charges must be filed against the killers of Diaz who was shot dead by three armed men on September 7 in his farm in Villa Pereda, Delfin Albano town in Isabela.  He was the head of the the provincial chapter of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Plipinas (KMP) in Isabela.

Four days earlier, Emerenciana Mercado-de la Cruz, Violeta Mercado-de Leon, Eligio Barbado and Gaudencio Bagalay were shot dead while resting in a nipa hut in their farm in Laur.

Several others were wounded in the carnage perpetrated by still unidentified gunmen whose firearms were reportedly dropped from a helicopter.

The victims were part of the group of farmers belonging to Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid na Nagkakaisa, another chapter of the KMP, who are cultivating portions of the disputed 3,100 hectares of land inside Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation.

Pamintuan said the issue of land is the “central mobilizing force of the armed revolution” being waged by the New People’s Army, the armed component of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its political wing, the National Democratic Front (NDF).

Bello, who chairs the government peace panel (GRP), said “we cannot allow a repeat of the Mendiola massacre where peasant leaders and farmers had been killed while we are in the middle of peace negotiations.” 

It must be recalled that in January 1987, the NDF pulled out from the peace negotiations with the government of Cory Aquino after government forces fired at peasants marching in Mendiola demanding for genuine land reform.

The Philippine government and the NDF have since held on and off negotiations but never reached the substantive phase of the peace talks.

Formal negotiations between the two peace panels were last suspended in 2011 after the NDFP accused the government of Benigno S. Aquino III of violating the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) following the arrest of ranking rebel leaders.

But formal negotiations have since been reopened on August 22-26 in Oslo, Norway upon the initiative of President Rodrigo R. Duterte with the Royal Government of Norway acting as third party facilitator.

“It is encouraging to note that there are more common areas now that the government and the NDF can agree on so we can fast track the process,” shared Pamintuan.

Mayor Pamintuan noted that President Duterte has consistently mentioned in his campaign sorties his commitment to push for genuine land reform, national industrialization, and health and education reforms, issues that the NDF has been advocating for all these years.

The two panels will again meet in the first week of October, also in Oslo, to tackle substantive issues on social and economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms.

They will also hammer out details for a bilateral ceasefire and will submit amnesty proclamation drafts for detained rebel leaders.

President Duterte pushed the negotiations by ordering the release of 22 NDF consultants after promising during the campaign period to re-open peace negotiations with the communist rebels. This is the most number of prisoners released in the history of the Philippine peace process.

The president also declared an indefinite unilateral ceasefire on the eve of the August resumption of the negotiations.

It was reciprocated by the NDF with a formal declaration of its own indefinite unilateral ceasefire, an unprecedented and historic move.

Both panels are confident they will be able to strike a comprehensive peace settlement under the Duterte government with the government panel expressing optimism a peace deal could be signed within a year.  AJRSP with PR

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