Philippines: Luis Jalandoni and Consuela Ledesma of the National Democratic Front arrive in Manila

MANILA – A day after the government and the Communist group announced an 18-day holiday ceasefire,  Luis Jalandoni, the chief peace negotiator of the National Democratic Front (NDF), arrived in Manila on Saturday. He and his wife, Ma. Consuela Ledesma, arrived at the NAIA airport in Manila on board a Cathay Pacific Flight from Hong Kong. “We are happy to be back,” Jalandoni said as he and his wife faced the media at the airport. An official of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process met the couple at the airport. Human rights lawyers were also present.

Jalandoni has been in years of self-exile with communist leader Jose Maria Sison and other members of the NDF in the Netherlands. He did not say how long he will be staying in the Philippines but clarified that he is in town to attend a family reunion.

The hold-departure order issued against Jalandoni has been lifted, according to Undersecretary Alexander Padilla, chief of the government’s negotiating panel to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF). Padilla added that he had also assured the NDF leadership that the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), which allows members of the negotiating panel such as Jalandoni to safely enter and leave the Philippines, is in effect.

The 18-day ceasefire, which will be observed from December 16 to January 3, was agreed during a previous 2-day meeting in Hong Kong. This is the longest ceasefire agreed between the two parties in the last 10 years and the first after both sides suspended peace talks in 2004.

Largely considered as part of the “goodwill and confidence-building measures,” the ceasefire aims to set the tone for the resumption of the formal peace talks on February 19 to 25, 2011 in Oslo, Norway. Preliminary talks have been tentatively set on January 14 to 18, 2011 also in Oslo.

“We hope this truce will pave the way for lasting peace between two sides. I think it is only through negotiations that we can stop the fighting,” Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Jose Mabanta told ABS-CBN News. “Both sides are hopeful [that] the peace talks will bear fruit and end the more than 40 years of communist rebellion,” Mabanta shared.

More than 40,000 people have died in the Maoist rebellion, which began in the 1960s, hobbling investment and development in resource-rich areas of the country.

Peace talks stalled in August 2004 when Washington and some Western European states blacklisted the group’s military arm, the New People’s Army (NPA), as a terrorist organisation.

Morong 43

Human rights lawyers Edre Olalia and Rachel Pastores expressed hope that case of the ‘Morong 43,’ a group of health workers arrested by the military on suspicion of being members of the left-wing New People’s Army, will be included in the peace talks.

“We are hoping that as part of their confidence building measure on the part of the government ay mapalaya itong mga health workers namin,” Olalia told ABS-CBN News.

In February, the Maoists abandoned backroom negotiations with the government of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo after 43 health workers were arrested and accused of being rebels.

The rebels have not abandoned demands for the government to free all political prisoners, including 11 men they say are part of peace negotiations, and the health workers.

The government is also trying to restart negotiations with Muslim separatists to end a separate long-running insurgency in the south.

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